Maguire joins Donegan at T3 after matching 69s at Pebble Beach

Mark McGowan

Leona Maguire (Photo: USGA/James Gilbert)

Leona Maguire, playing in the fourth-to-last group and finishing in rapidly-receding light, finished off her opening round of the 78th U.S. Women’s Open in style by birdieing the iconic 18th hole at Pebble Beach to move to three-under-par where she’d join fellow Irishwoman Aine Donegan in a tie for third.

Earlier in the day, amateur Donegan, playing in her first major championship, made a dream start as she’d get to -4 on her back nine and briefly become the solo leader before a bogey at the last dropped her to -3, and she’d set an excellent target for Maguire and the later starters to aim for.

With central California’s famed ‘June gloom’ leaking into July, overcast, cool and misty conditions greeted the players on day one and the marine layer remained a constant throughout.


Maguire, playing alongside American Jennifer Kupcho and Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand, was among the marquee groups in the afternoon wave and a shaky three-putt bogey at her opening hole was emblematic of the nerves many players were feeling at one of golf’s most storied venues, but a perfectly executed wedge to 18-inches at the fourth got her back on track and she’d hole a 27-footer from the fringe on the par-3 next to move into red figures.

And in red figures she’d remain, parring her way to the turn before trading a birdie at the 10th with a bogey at 11 and making an excellent sand-save on 12 to keep her round under par. Another delicious wedge at 15 set up her fourth birdie of the day, this time from two-and-a-half feet, before again showing off her skills with the short clubs on the last, laying up to 115 yards and sticking it to four-feet for her fifth birdie of the day and a three-under total that saw her join Donegan in a tie for third and just one shot off the lead.

“Yeah, played really solid all day,” Maguire told the media afterwards. “Hit a lot of fairways, which was key out there I feel like. Missed a few greens, but made some really nice up-and-downs when I needed to to keep the momentum going.

“Always nice to finish with two birdies in the last four.”

Pebble Beach’s maiden hosting of a U.S. Women’s Open had dominated much of the narrative coming into the tournament, with the majority of the field playing the course for the first time ever, and Maguire confirmed that, like most of the field, her anticipation levels had risen in accordance.

“Yeah, it’s an incredible venue,” she said. “I know pretty much all of us have been looking forward to this for a long time. It’s one that’s been circled on the calendar. Yeah, it’s one of those bucket list courses for a lot of people.

“I suppose today felt a little bit like home with the weather and all of that, but no, very grateful to be here. It’s a special place, and to play well is just a bonus.”

After victory at the Meijer LPGA Classic and holding the lead through 54 holes at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship a fortnight ago, Maguire appears to be peaking at exactly the right time and is planning on changing little ahead of her early tee time on Friday, saying: “Yeah, I think more the same as today. Staying really patient, trying to hit a lot of fairways, and a lot of greens is going to be the key all week.

“It was a pretty long day out there today, so get dinner and go to bed pretty early and get ready to do it — pretty quick turnaround again tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I think a day,” she replied when asked how long it had taken to overcome the disappointment of a poor final round at the PGA. “It’s golf. These things happen. I think you have to get on with things pretty quickly, dust yourself off. Still a fantastic week even if Sunday didn’t go my way.

“I think when you’ve got another major coming up as quick as this was and at somewhere like Pebble, I think your focus shifts pretty quickly. Looking forward to another opportunity this week hopefully.”

One stroke ahead are China’s Xiyu Lin and Korean Hyo Joo Kim at -4. Like Maguire, Lin has been in a constant presence at the top of the leaderboard for the past month, while Kim set a major scoring record of 61 enroute to winning the Evian Championship back in 2014.

Defending champion Minjee Lee opened with a level-par 72 and occupies a tie for 21st, while pre-tournament favourite Rose Zhang paid a heavy penalty for a wayward approach to the eighth that ended up in the Pacific Ocean, costing her a double bogey-six and she’d end the day tied for 39th at +2.

Michelle Wie West’s hopes of a fairytale ending to her career appear to be over after the soon-to-retire 33-year-old struggled to a seven-over 79, with Annika Sörenstam set to join her on the weekend sidelines after an opening 80.

Earlier in the day, Thai LPGA rookie Natthakritta Vongtaveelap was disqualified after her caddie, Jinsup Kim, had used a range-finder on several holes. Despite distance measuring devices being legal to use at all regular LPGA events and at the recent KPMG PGA Championship, they remain illegal at the U.S. and British Women’s Opens.

Maguire will get her second round underway at 15:39 Irish time, while Donegan won’t tee off until 21:18.


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