As Leona Maguire’s challenge faded at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational on Saturday evening, another Irishwoman was maintaining her own bid for glory in Co Antrim.
It may be a stretch to call American national Amanda Doherty an Irishwoman, but with Irish heritage on her father’s side of the family, the home crowd will more than happily will her on to a wire-to-wire victory at Galgorm Castle.
As Maguire collapsed to a three-over 76 at Galgorm on moving day, Doherty maintained the one-shot lead she has held after each of the first two rounds to hold a slender advantage heading into the final day.
She had to bounce back from a bogey and a double-bogey in her first five holes, but the 24-year-old clung on for a one-under 72 at Galgorm to reach 12-under-par, which has her a solitary stroke ahead of former Women’s Open champion Georgia Hall and Korea’s Peiyun Chien.
“I’m a little bit nervous. I would be lying if I wasn’t,” admitted Doherty, the World No.211 who is an LPGA Tour rookie having qualified through the Epson Tour last year and is going for her first professional win. “To me the nerves just mean that I care and that I’m excited, and it’s just kind of good energy going into tomorrow.
“I feel like overall it was a good day. Got off to a little bit of a rough start and I hit a few crazy shots today, so I managed to kind of come back from those and try and stay patient, have a decent round.”
Hall and Chien – playing alongside each other in the penultimate group – both carded three-under 70s to assume their position as Doherty’s closest challengers at 11-under-par, with Sweden’s Maja Stark, the Race to Costa del Sol leader, moving her way through the field with a four-under 69 to sit alongside Allisen Corpuz and Emily Kristine Pedersen a shot further back at 10-under-par.
Indeed, it was a day where it looked like anybody could potentially be leading as Lee-Anne Pace made a run from deep with seven birdies on her front nine, only to fall back to eight-under-par after three bogeys on her inward nine.
Stark set the benchmark a few groups ahead of the leaders as she finished her front nine with two birdies and then added an eagle at the ninth, and one more birdie at the 11th saw her post a 10-under scoreline.
But it was Doherty who emerged at the top with birdies at the eighth, 10th and 12th and, after bogeying the par-three 14th, she birdied the par-five 18th to ensure she is on course for a wire-to-wire win in only her second ever event in Europe.
However, she will look nervously over her shoulder at Solheim Cup star Hall behind her, who is looking ominously good after an eagle, four birdies and three bogeys has her tied for second at 11-under alongside Chien, who had six birdies, a bogey and a double.
“I think a little bit disappointed, to be honest, with my round,” was Hall’s shock assessment. “I had a really solid front nine. I was very happy with that. And then back nine was really slow for me. Didn’t really get anything
going. Missed couple putts.
“But it was great birdie on the last and gives me a chance for tomorrow.”
Maguire, however, had a day to forget as she started with two birdies in her first three holes to close within one of Doherty, but from there things went the opposite direction as she couldn’t deliver in front of a loud home support, eventually finishing with a three-over 76 to drop to 16th at five-under-par.
The 27-year-old dropped back-to-back shots at the fourth and fifth before three-putting from close range for a damaging double-bogey at the par-four sixth, and from there her race was run.
A birdie came at the par-five 10th to at least give her some hope of a back nine resurgence, but that hope was immediately extinguished with a bogey at the par-four 11th, and she closed out her scoring with another dropped shot at the par-three 14th.