Both Aine Donegan and Leona Maguire endured difficult Saturday rounds at the 78th U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach as they watched their title aspirations fade in difficult playing conditions.
The marine layer lifted and the wind whipped in from the north which presented a unique challenge to the 74 players who’d made the cut and particularly those with later tee times and Pebble Beach would yield just 11 rounds under par with six remaining in red figures at the end of day’s play.
Donegan, who started the day at +1, got off to a dream start with a birdie at the first and added two more on four and six to climb to -2 and back into the top five. But disaster struck on the eighth. Already one of the most difficult holes on the course, the strong left-to-right wind was blowing straight out to the pacific ocean, and she’d be forced to twice reload on her approach and the resulting quintuple bogey saw her go tumbling down the leaderboard and any realistic hopes of a fairytale victory disappear.
“Yeah, I hit a good tee shot and I had about 190 to the flag,” she’d explain afterwards. “The wind was really, really left to right there, and that wind often doesn’t suit a right-handed golfer who plays a draw. Not that it makes a huge difference, or it’s an excuse, but I just didn’t hit two — I hit two very bad shots in a row, which obviously concluded in me having a 9 on the hole.
“I had to keep moving on. I had still 10 holes left to play. It was very disappointing, but I’m pleased with how I finished after that.”
She’d regroup impressively to par the ninth, and played the back nine in one over to sign for a three-over 75 and post +4. She remains in pole position to take low amateur honours as she holds a three-stroke lead over Benedetta Moresco and Monet Chun, and just by making the cut, she’s exempt from qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Bel-Air Country Club in August.
“I’m really happy with how I played the back nine,” she added, “especially the back nine today is playing really tough. It’s really windy. It feels like home, to be honest, the back nine today.
“The back nine is just the back nine at Pebble. It’s very, very difficult with the added wind and then the pressure, it’s tough. It’s tough to play in. Yeah, I’m really happy with how I finished the back nine.”
Maguire, who got her round underway an hour after Donegan, birdied the second to move to two-under and back inside the top five, but double bogeys on six and eight dropped her back to +2 at the turn and back-to-back bogeys on 12 and 13 effectively ended any hopes of a maiden major title for the Cavan star.
But grit and determination are qualities that have become synonymous with the two-time LPGA Tour winner, and she’d birdie 14 and 18 on the way home to cover the treacherous back nine in level par and she’ll go into the final round in 13th place at +2, but nine strokes back.
“Yeah, I think it was incredibly difficult,” Maguire conceded after her round. “It had to be playing four or five shots harder in the afternoon than it was this morning. It was just a case of hanging in really. 2-under my last five, it’s nice momentum for tomorrow.”
Playing in her fifth U.S. Open, Maguire was asked if this was the toughest yet, to which she replied: “Yeah, I would say so. Yeah, by far. Yeah, this doesn’t have a patch on what Pine Needles — I mean, we had nice weather in Pine Needles last year. I think it’s got a lot firmer and faster out there, and then coupled with the wind, you definitely had to be creative on where you hit some of the shots.”
Despite the conditions, in what will surely be the round of the championship, Japan’s Nasa Hataoka carded an incredible, bogey-free 66 to move to the top of the leaderboard at -7. Hataoka’s 66 was almost nine shots better than the field average and four clear of the next lowest score of the day.
She takes a one-stroke lead over American Allisen Corpuz into the final round. Corpuz, playing in the final group, was tied with Hataoka until an untimely bogey at the 18th saw her fall a shot behind, and she’s two clear of Hyo Joo Kim and Bailey Tardy in a tie for third at -4.
At +1, defending champion Minjee Lee and Rose Zhang are not completely out of it, but like Maguire, they’ll need to post something very low and hope that the carnage reigns on the back nine in the leading groups.