BELMONT – As the holes on Leona Maguire’s scorecard filled, it looked like she’d tied for first place ahead of the weekend at the Meijer LPGA Classic at Blythefield Country Club near Grand Rapids.
Then their last three holes happened.
The Irish-born finished the race with a par, an eagle and a 30-foot birdie and took the lead by three strokes at the end of the second lap. She finished under day 8 to make her tournament total points 15 under, three strokes better than her closest competitor.
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“We were a kind of intermediate club. I absolutely flushed a 5 hybrid, [it] went a lot further than I thought, tossed Pin up and stayed on the green, ”Duncan said. “And another really nice putt on nine, this pin was really sunk. I just tried to be disciplined, played 10 meters to the right of the hole and took my chance. “
She started the lap hot, shooting a 5 under 31 on her first nine, but cost her a few misguided drives as she turned the corner, and she gave up consecutive bogeys. Even so, she got back on track and went under by 5 over her last five holes.
The 26-year-old had to fend off challengers Suh Oh (12 under), who finished 7 under that day, and Lindy Duncan (11 under), who also went 7 under. Maguire said she was used to having a good day at a tournament but usually couldn’t string consecutive solid days. Her impressive performance has given her the confidence to go into the final two laps.
“Was really proud of how I got out today,” said Maguire. “Last week in San Francisco I was in the lead after the first day and had problems on the second day. So it was nice to put a really good number in a row in rounds one and two and to be even better today. “
While she’s in the driver’s seat for her first LPGA win, Duncan sits just four strokes back looking for her first title as well. It was a career day for the South Florida resident, she shot 5 under on her back nine to take the lead in the clubhouse until Maguire and Oh overtook her in the late afternoon.
Although there was a two hour rain delay in the morning before she could tee off, that might have helped Duncan. She said the greens felt smoother and slower which made her play a little more aggressively. But the wet weather still created its own challenges.
“I think the top nine were quite receptive and the greens definitely rolled a little smoother,” said Duncan. “I was just trying to take holes at a time and take notes as I kept going, trying to pay attention to these little things … it definitely changed.”
Oh, whoever ran away that afternoon is only three shots away from Maguire. She had a bogey-free round on Friday and only played one hole over par in the first two days.
Still, she doesn’t get too far when she thinks about fame. She doesn’t have a score in mind that she wants to hit for the rest of the weekend. The Australian just takes it one shot at a time.
“[I] just stayed cool. I think that was pretty good, “said Oh. “I think I just have to hit one shot and then the next shot and see how it turns out, just keep going.”
Nelly Korda, number two in the world rankings, made a change on Friday. She shot 6 under for the day and put her total score to 10, well within striking distance.
“The greens were definitely a lot softer today so you could be more aggressive,” said Korda. “So today I really got my numbers and I had a lot of good numbers.”
The surprise of the tournament is that the two-time Meijer LPGA Classic winner Brooke Henderson missed the cut. She shot a 75 on Thursday and bounced back with a 5 under 67, but it wasn’t enough. She finished 2 under, 1 from the cut line.
But back on top, Maguire is living in the moment. She and Duncan both played college golf at Duke, though they never crossed at Durham. Even so, they have become close friends and practice together outside of Orlando.
On the way to the finals in West Michigan, the two Blue Devils may have to compete against each other to claim their first tournament win.
“We practice and play together quite a bit,” said Maguire. “She is a good friend of mine and it will be nice to compete with her this weekend.”