BELLEAIR, Fla. – (AP) – Solheim Cup star Leona Maguire thrived in a star grouping Thursday with an 8-under 62 for a two-stroke advantage over defending champion Sei Young Kim in the Pelican Women’s Championship.
Maguire played alongside Kim and Lexi Thompson. Nobody in the group did bogey at Pelican Golf Club on a day that was ideal for scoring.
Maguire is still trying to become Ireland’s first winner on the LPGA Tour. Her best result is a runner-up in tournaments in Michigan and Hawaii this year.
At the moment she is luckily best known for having been unbeaten in five games and leading Europe to a Solheim Cup win two months ago.
Maguire set up a clinic by hitting each fairway and only doing 24 putts.
“It was just really, really solid,” she said. “Hitting lots of greens gave me lots of opportunities and rolled in some nice putts. … Yes, everything simply clicks well. “
It helped having her trainer Shane O’Grady with her for a week. It’s the first time he has played her in person since she was on her way to get an LPGA tour card in late 2019. Since then, O’Grady has been grounded in Ireland from COVID-19.
Kim, who won the opening event by three strokes last year, opened with three straight birdies until she cooled slightly and stayed within range of Maguire with an eagle on par-5 14th.
“I didn’t check the leaderboard so I figured because my group is playing really well I expect everyone to play well,” said Kim. “I check the leaderboard and, yes, our group just played really well. So, yes, we all really feed each other. “
At 65, Thompson was in the large group that also included Nelly Korda, who returned to number 1 in the women’s world rankings this week and is only making the second appearance since a tough performance in the Solheim Cup on the LPGA Tour.
The 65-year-old group also included Lauren Coughlin, one of the last to enter the field, Nasa Hataoka, and former PGA women’s champion Danielle Kang.
Jin Young Ko, who was just ahead of Korda in the points race for LPGA Player of the Year, was slowed down by two bogeys after the corner and had to be content with a 68.
Fifty players from the 108-player field broke the par.
This is the final tournament for the Top 60 of the Race to the CME Globe to qualify next week on the Gulf Coast in Naples for the CME Group Tour Championship where all 60 players have a chance to win the US 1.5 million prize Have dollars.
Ko has a narrow lead on Korda, but that is irrelevant for the points race, as everyone will be at the start next week.
Maguire is also on suspension for next week amid concerns about her first LPGA Tour win. I have no idea what your Irish city will do for you when that happens. After the Solheim Cup, she was driven through the streets of her one-stop-light city in a gold BMW with her name on the license plate.
“It was basically like St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland,” she said. “I think it went well with the lifting of COVID restrictions. I think the best part for me was seeing people happy and excited again. I brought smiles and joy to so many people. “
Lydia Ko opened with a 67, a big step towards the Vare Trophy for the lowest point average. Ko, Korda and Inbee Park have lower averages but don’t meet the 70 round minimum requirement. Ko’s next challenger is In Gee Chun, who had a 74.
More AP golf coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in any way without permission.