Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow shot matching rounds of 74 on moving day at the Mizuho Americas Open at New Jersey’s Liberty National Golf Club, effectively ending any hopes of an Irish victory as 20-year-old sensation Rose Zhang continues to steal the show on her pro debut.
Zhang, who surpassed Maguire’s 135 weeks as the top ranked amateur in the game earlier this year, turned professional last week and is playing for prizemoney for the first time, has taken to the pro ranks like a duck to water.
Bogeys on the seventh and tenth holes saw Maguire slip to two-over for the day, but thanks to birdies at the 13th and 16th she’d get back to level for the round and -3 for the tournament, before a double-bogey at the 17th undid the good recovery work, and she’d end the day tied for 29th at -1.
Earlier, Meadow had gotten off to the ideal start with a birdie at the first, before posting 13 successive pars. Unfortunately, she’d bogey three of the last four to lie tied for 49th at +3.
But it’s all about Zhang, who just turned 20 last week, and takes a two-stroke lead into the final round after carding a bogey-free six-under in round three.
Birdies at the first, fourth, sixth and eighth holes saw her rise to the top of the leaderboard by the midpoint, and she’d add two more on 14 and 16. On the latter, she near-aced the 253-yard par-4, only to miss the short eagle putt, but the resulting birdie allowed her to open a two-shot gap over the chasing trio of Cheyenne Knight, Aditi Ashok and Atthaya Thitikul.
“It’s been great. Today was pretty much what I expected,” said a confident Zhang afterwards. “The golf course was playing a little more difficult, especially with the winds gusting up a little bit more and it’s in a different direction.
“So there was nothing that I didn’t anticipate when I went out here, and Jason and I, we just did a great job getting our numbers in. I was just committed to every single golf shot that I hit today, so I think all that allowed me to shoot the best score that I could.”
Despite obviously having great self-belief, to be leading her first professional event still comes as a surprise to the reigning NCAA and Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion. “Definitely not,” was her response when asked if she’d expected to find herself in this position. “I was expecting myself to scramble into the cut. That was the first priority for me.
“But I’ve been enjoying every moment. I feel like the weekend is something that I’ve been — I’ve experienced before but as an amateur, so obviously it is a little different.
“I’ve just been trying to take it all in, figure out what to do inside the ropes, rather than just, you know, be blindsided.”