Leona Maguire played her last seven holes in six-under-par to reignite her KPMG Women’s Irish Open hopes with a thunderous back nine as Dromoland Castle took on a major championship feel on moving day.
Teeing off ten shots off the pace after a damaging 75, Maguire was ten better in round three and might need another 65 depending on what the leaders do in the afternoon but her display down the stretch was worth the ten-year wait.
At the time of writing she is three strokes behind course record holder Moa Folke of Sweden on nine-under-par.
Slow starts have been a feature of the first 54-holes for the Cavan native and having turned in one-under she lit the touchpaper with a chip in birdie on the 12th that rattled the flagstick as it went in which she labelled as “massive.”
The 27-year-old finally had some momentum and she rode it with a three-foot birdie on 14 after a superb hybrid before a tap in on the short 15th. Her aggressive approach paid off again on 16 as she fired a dart with a 3-wood to ten-feet and rolled in the eagle to draw a real Irish Open roar.
A missed chance on 17 and a duffed second on 18 didn’t irk her as she rolled in a 17-footer for a grandstand finish and a much-needed 65.
It was a special round that meant a lot to Maguire, who was visibly trying her heart out with fistpumps and a steely walk of determination and she appeared to relish being the main woman in County Clare.
“That’s the position I’m in Dermot said to me on the 13th tee that we were going to be brave and start going at pins we had nothing to lose. Sometimes it comes off sometimes it doesn’t, today it did at least I have made up some ground,” explained Maguire who moved from 42nd place into the top-10.
“I had 20-under in my head at the start of the week and I’ll try get as close to that as possible. Yesterday knocked me back a bit but there are a lot of chances out there and you can go on a run, just have to be patient and take chances when you get them.
“I felt like I didn’t have any momentum yesterday and not much the first day either. Golf is a funny game you don’t need much to go one way or the other, nice to finish strong today.”
It’s been a decade since crowds have lined the fairways to see Europe’s top female professionals in action and it was Maguire’s first real taste of what a proper Irish Open can feel like. Crowds of three and four deep scurried along the ropes encouraging her on with every shot as she experienced the adoration that Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington get every year.
Listen to that ROAR!@leona_maguire birdies the last to seal a third round score of 65 (-7)
— Ladies European Tour (@LETgolf) September 24, 2022
“It’s definitely different, definitely envious of the lads getting to share the burden, it’s just me this week and hopefully there will be a few more in the coming years. It’s been great having the crowds cheering me on good or bad. I was disappointed after yesterday we went down to Bunratty for dinner last night and we met a man out walking his dog and he said ‘I know you’re disappointed but you have no idea the amount of people who are rooting for you.’
“I felt that today.
“The crowds were fantastic, wasn’t expecting quite as many people for an early morning tee time it would have been nice to be a little bit later on. From about the 7th or 8th the crowds started gathering and you want to give them something to cheer about.
“Golf is a funny game, yesterday I felt like I couldn’t do anything right and today everything came off on the back nine hopefully we can have more of that tomorrow and give all the people who came out to support me something to cheer about.
“I was exhausted after yesterday I took a three-hour nap yesterday afternoon so it gave me more energy coming out here today. There has been wonderful support this week and you don’t want to let anybody down, give them as much to cheer about as possible and I did that today,” added the world number 18.
Four successive bogeys on yesterday’s front nine might still have put paid to Maguire’s chances on Sunday but her fortunes evened out in the early part of her third round with crucial par saves on the second, fifth and eighth holes keeping her just about alive.
“That pitch on 2 nearly went in it was about 50 yards I think,” said Maguire who opened with a bogey but added birdies on the sixth and ninth. “I thought I hit a pretty good drive I thought it was better than the girls and they ended up with perfect drives and I was standing with the ball miles above my feet. It was about staying patient and I got it up and down.
“It’s a tricky start, four is a tough hole, five is tough so it’s trying to manage it through those few holes and then take your chances. Six is a chance eight is a chance and nine is a chance.
“I was right behind a tree could have gone left or right but with the lie knew right was a better shape, it was a good drive but difficult to hold that fairway.
“That par save on 8 was massive it was as good as any other birdie. Didn’t hit the best shot in and that was a tricky up and down off the back of 8 and it was massive for momentum.”
Maguire will be in one of the final groups on Sunday on the fringes or who knows maybe in contention. But when it appeared the long-awaited edition of the Women’s Irish Open was going to fizzle out, there will be a huge crowd teaming into Dromoland to see the action, the fairways will be heaving.