As the wind picked up and the greens firmed out, Pebble Beach turned into a beast for the afternoon starters on day two of the U.S. Women’s Open, but Aine Donegan battled her way to a four-over 76 that not only sees her safely through to the weekend, but in a tie for 11th place and in pole position in the race to be leading amateur at the event’s 78th staging.
An opening round of 69 saw the 21-year-old Clare native make headlines all over the world and she’d even be penciled in for a ‘walk-and-talk’ with NBC on the ninth hole.
Playing earlier, Leona Maguire had her own back-nine struggles as she signed for a two-over 74, and with the course toughening by the minute, the late starters were going to be in for the battle of their lives to remain in the hunt. Donegan started with with a sand-saving par at one and a penalty drop resulted in bogey at the par-5 second, before bouncing back with a birdie on the third. She’d add another at the sixth to move to -4 and into a tie for fifth, before back-to-back bogeys on eight and nine, two of the toughest holes on the course, rounded out the front side.
On the latter, she’d talk her way through the process with Grant Boon and Cara Banks on the host broadcaster, regaling them with the unlikely tale of her qualifying and then losing her clubs on the eve of the tournament, but like many others, she wasn’t immune to a loose shot in between chats and the bogey at nine dropped her back to +1 for the day and -2 for the week heading for the back nine.
She’d add three more bogeys on the way home as the entire field struggled with the rapidly drying greens, but reached the clubhouse having safely secured a Saturday tee time as the fairytale week continues.
“The back nine was playing so tough,” she said afterwards. “My playing partners struggled there, as well, and I’m sure everybody else is struggling a little bit on the back nine. It’s getting cold now. The wind is picking up and the greens are really firm, way firmer than the front nine and even yesterday. I’m not sure, I haven’t looked at the leaderboard, but I’d say if you were to look at a leaderboard the better scores would be from this morning.
“I’m pleased with how I finished. I finished with three pars and that was my goal, just try and get in with the same score, and luckily I did.”
Making the cut would’ve been the goal coming into the week so whatever happens from here out, the week has been a major success, and she intends to enjoy it to the fullest.
“Well, me and my family, we all can’t really believe it to be honest,” she said. “We made the main news channel in Ireland, which is like a big deal, which was cool, and then actually one of my best friends here, I’ve known here since I was about four years old, and she was just over in the States at her aunt’s house in San Francisco with her dad and a few of her siblings, and they extended their flights to stay for this, so she’s been here the first two days, and I actually think they extended their flights again until the end of this.
“Then two of my best friends are up in Vancouver for the summer, and they booked flights to come down, as well, for the weekend, so it’s going to be really nice to see some familiar faces. Even the faces that aren’t so familiar, there’s a lot of Irish people out here supporting and stuff, which is really nice. I’m having a great time.”
In the morning, American Bailey Tardy played her opening nine in five-under enroute to a 68 that saw her move to the top of the leaderboard at -7, but with just six plyers under par – including Maguire who’d end the day tied for fifth – and similar weather conditions forecast for the weekend, anyone within eight or nine shots can play their way into the mix.
Rose Zhang sits alongside Donegan at +1, as does defending champion Minjee Lee who’s one of seven former winners to make the cut.