Leona Maguire is the last remaining Irishwoman in the field at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational, but she has positioned herself nicely to potentially pick up a second LPGA Tour title on Sunday after another impressive round.
The Cavan woman backed up her opening 68 at Galgorm Castle with a three-under 69 at Massereene on day two as she combined four birdies with one bogey to reach eight-under-par for the tournament.
That has her three shots back of leader Amanda Doherty, the American posting a five-under 67 at Massereene to reach 11-under-par and open up a one-shot lead over Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen and fellow American Lauren Coughlin.
Maguire started her second round at the 10th at Massereene and was quickly under-par with a birdie at her opening hole, and she added two more at the 14th and 16th to keep in touch with Doherty who, on the other side of the course, had also started strongly.
A beautiful 9-wood at the sixth nearly set up an eagle at the par-five for the World No.17 but she settled instead for a birdie, however there will be a slight frustration that she dropped one shot coming in after a bogey at the par-three eighth.
After being disappointed with how she hit the ball in her first round, Maguire was much happier with her overall performance on day two and she is confident that if she can do that again over the weekend then she will give herself a big chance to win on home soil.
“I hit the ball a lot nicer today, gave myself lots of chances, and overall pretty happy. Could have holed a few more putts coming in, but three-under round Massereene, I’m pretty happy with that,” said the 27-year-old.
“I think if I hit it the way I hit it today, should be in good shape heading to Galgorm. Just try and go low over the weekend.”
She has some work to do to claw back the deficit to Doherty, the LPGA rookie continuing her impressive start to the week with five birdies on her front nine to reach the turn in 11-under-par, and if she had kept up that scoring on the back nine then she might be out of sight already.
As it was, a bogey at the par-three 11th was cancelled out by a birdie at the par-four 13th in a 67 that makes her the only player in double figures on either side of the field, and she’s loving looking at the leaderboards around the course.
“It’s really nice to see my name up there. Haven’t been up there in little while,” said the 24-year-old, who is ranked 211th in the world.
“I had been feeling like my game was trending in the right direction, making a few tweaks here and there. From the outside looking in you might not see that score-wise, but I’ve been feeling like it’s going the right direction, so it’s nice to really kind of confirm that.
“Just putts were going in today. I mean, I was hitting the ball well to get it close enough for them to go in, but they were just falling in, and that was definitely the best part of my game on the front nine. And then tried to hang on on the back.”
Her lead after the morning wave was three shots, with Maguire her closest challenger alongside playing partner Georgia Hall, who holed out with a pitching wedge at the 132-yard par-three third on her way to a 69 of her own to match the Irishwoman at eight-under-par, with the pair joined by Taipei’s Chien, who had six birdies and one bogey in a 67.
But Pedersen and Coughlin both had impressive rounds at Galgorm in the afternoon wave, the latter at one point taking the lead at 12-under after two eagles and three birdies in her first 12 holes, only for two bogeys in her final four dropping her back to 10-under.
She was joined by Solheim Cup star Pedersen on that mark after she opened with four straight birdies, only to cool off as the round went on and eventually finished with a five-under 65 to reach 10-under as well.
All Irish interest will be invested in Maguire, though, after both Stephanie Meadow and Olivia Mehaffey were unable to make the weekend at their home event as they missed the cut.
Meadow came close, needing an eagle down the 18th at Galgorm to make it in, but she would par to finish with three birdies and two bogeys in a one-under 72 to end the week two shots shy at three-over, while Mehaffey had eight bogeys and a double to go with three birdies in an 80 to finish at 10-over-par.
Finland’s Tiia Koivisto also had an ace on day two, holing out from 162 yards on the par-three 12th at Galgorm with a 7-iron, but she will not be around for the weekend after a one-over 71 left her three-over-par.