Leona Maguire makes the most of a bad lot as In Gee Chun leads by one at Women’s Open

Maguire six shots off the leader after getting on the wrong side of the draw at Muirfield

The vagaries of it all. There are the weather gods who play tricks with the wind, and then there are those nonsensical kicks and physics-defying bounces of nature that would test the patience of a saint.

And so it was as this AIG Women’s Open – being played for the first time at Muirfield – as the links conditions contrived to give to some and take from others and which reached its historic midpoint with South Korea’s In Gee Chun cast as frontrunner.

Those weather gods? Well, let’s just say that those players with early-late tee-times had an edge over those with late-early, as the wind died in the afternoon second round to the point that when all the numbers were added up the leading six players had all enjoyed the more favourable side of the draw. Such is life.

Chun, a closer of deals, it was who led the way with a second round after adding a second round 66 to her opening 68 for a 36-holes total of eight-under-par 134, one stroke clear of European Solheim Cup player Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden – with Irish caddie Shane Codd on the bag – and South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai, who has proven to be something of a surprise packet.

For Leona Maguire, one of those on what turned out to be the wrong side of the draw, there remains a weekend of promise. The 27-year-old Co Cavan player stuck diligently and patiently to her task in signing for a second round 69 for 140 to lie inside the top-20, six strokes adrift of Chun.

“I am right where I want to be heading into the weekend, with good momentum,” said Maguire, the world number 22.

Indeed, despite the fact that 30-plus players managed to dip under par at the midpoint, two-thirds of them from that favourable early-late side of the draw, it wasn’t plain sailing for everyone. Among the notable casualties who failed to progress were world number one Jin Young Ko, defending champion Anna Nordqvist and big-hitting American Lexi Thompson, the world number seven.

Stephanie Meadow, too, was another forced to leave early as the Northern Irishwoman, hampered by what she described as a “hooky” driver, also found herself exasperated by the slow nature of play in her group and a 72 for 148 had her three shots outside the cutline.

Maguire may have some work to do to play catch-up on Chun – who claimed a third career Major title when she won last month’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – but there was much to admire about her play in a second round that was highlighted by an eagle on the fifth but also back-to-back birdies on the 14th and 15th, the two toughest holes on the course.

Behind those shaded sunglasses, there is a steely determination. And, although there were times when kicks and bounces went against her, especially on the par-four 11th where she was required to contort her body in order to play an escape shot from the face of a bunker, Maguire was rewarded for her patience with three birdies in her closing five holes.

“That’s links golf, you just have to be patient. I feel like I did that today. It would have been easy to kind of get frustrated and finish a couple over. I dug in for those last few, which was nice,” said Maguire, who finished eighth in the US Women’s Open earlier in the summer and is aiming for a strong challenge over the weekend to get into the thick of contention in her quest for a maiden Major title.

Maguire will have to navigate a route through the top end of the field if she is to have a chance of achieving that goal, but – certainly – her game is in good shape and there would seem to be a low score in her over the second half of the championship.

The player to catch, for everyone, is Chun. A three-time Major champion – US Women’s Open in 2015, the Evian in 2016 and last month’s WPGA – she has the knack of closing the deal when in contention and the 27-year-old’s second round of 66 (six birdies and a bogey) saw her claim a one-shot lead over Sagstrom and Buhai.

Sagstrom admitted she has developed a relationship with links golf that went from hate to love. As she put it, “It was hate at first sight. Mega-hate at first sight. I remember particularly well we played a British Am in Wales and the weather was horrendous and I couldn’t keep the ball low to save my life. I figured it out from there. This is my sixth season as a pro, so it’s taken me a little bit of time.”

Certainly, the Swede has got herself into position to contend for a breakthrough Major success. Yet, the packed nature of the leaderboard, with notables like Inbee Park and Minjee Lee and Celine Boutier not too far behind, not to mention Maguire, Nasa Hataoka, Jessica Korda and Lydia Ko with somewhat more ground to make up, there is very much all to play for heading into what should be a fascinating final two rounds in his first Women’s Open on the old links. All to play for, indeed.

Leaderboard

USA unless stated, par 71, (a) denotes amateur

134 In Gee Chun (Kor) 68 66

135 Madelene Sagstrom (Swe) 70 65, Ashleigh Buhai (Rsa) 70 65

136 Inbee Park (Kor) 69 67

137 Hannah Green (Aus) 71 66, Miyu Yamashita (Jpn) 69 68

138 Hinako Shibuno (Jpn) 65 73, Minjee Lee (Aus) 68 70, Stephanie Kyriacou (Aus) 70 68, Celine Boutier (Fra) 68 70

139 Maja Stark (Swe) 68 71, Jeongeun Lee6 (Kor) 71 68, Hyo Joo Kim (Kor) 73 66, Hye-Jin Choi (Kor) 69 70, Andrea Lee 72 67, Marina Alex 70 69

140 Louise Duncan (Sco) 67 73, Atthaya Thitikul (Tha) 71 69, Nasa Hataoka (Jpn) 71 69, Brooke Henderson (Can) 70 70, Jessica Korda 66 74, Leona Maguire (Irl) 71 69, Gaby Lopez (Mex) 67 73, Emily Kristine Pedersen (Den) 70 70, Kotone Hori (Jpn) 72 68

141 Lizette Salas 71 70, Charley Hull (Eng) 71 70, Lydia Ko (Nzl) 71 70, Whitney Hillier (Aus) 72 69, Jodi Ewart (Eng) 68 73, Brittany Altomare 70 71, A Lim Kim (Kor) 70 71, Sung Hyun Park (Kor) 72 69, Melissa Reid (Eng) 73 68

142 Mo Martin 73 69, Georgia Hall (Eng) 70 72, Soyeon Ryu (Kor) 70 72, Xiy Janet Lin (Chn) 72 70, Linn Grant (Swe) 72 70, Eun Hee Ji (Kor) 70 72, Rose Zhang (a) 72 70

143 Leonie Harm (Ger) 73 70, Ally Ewing 76 67, Megan Khang 74 69, Na Rin An (Kor) 75 68, Alison Lee 74 69, Albane Valenzuela (Swi) 73 70, Esther Henseleit (Ger) 73 70

144 Ariya Jutanugarn (Tha) 71 73, Nelly Korda 70 74, Sei Young Kim (Kor) 74 70, Ryann O’Toole 71 73, Lilia Vut 76 68, Sarah Schmelzel 73 71, Paula Reto (Rsa) 74 70, Gemma Dryburgh (Sco) 75 69, Bronte Law (Eng) 73 71, Wichanee Meechai (Tha) 70 74

145 In Kyung Kim (Kor) 71 74, Jennifer Kupcho 73 72, Cheyenne Knight 75 70, Angela Stanford 73 72, Jennifer Chang 72 73

Missed Cut

146 Sophia Popov (Ger) 75 71, Anna Nordqvist (Swe) 74 72, Nanna Koerstz Madsen (Den) 76 70, Sanna Nuutinen (Fin) 74 72, Alice Hewson (Eng) 71 75, Mina Harigae 71 75, Johanna Gustavsson (Swe) 75 71, Ayaka Furue (Jpn) 75 71, Yuna Nishimura (Jpn) 77 69, Jung Min Hong (Kor) 73 73, Jenny Shin (Kor) 75 71, Maude-Aimee Leblanc (Can) 76 70, Caroline Masson (Ger) 73 73, Annie Park 76 70, Emma Talley 76 70

147 Stacy Lewis 77 70, Jin-Young Ko (Kor) 76 71, Pajaree Anannarukarn (Tha) 71 76, Chella Choi (Kor) 72 75, Mao Saigo (Jpn) 72 75, Maria Uribe (Col) 78 69, Aditi Ashok (Ind) 73 74, Diksha Dagar (Ind) 77 70

148 Moriya Jutanugarn (Tha) 77 71, Yuka Saso (Jpn) 75 73, Amy Yang (Kor) 75 73, Amy Olson 74 74, Stephanie Meadow (N Irl) 76 72, Perrine Delacour (Fra) 71 77, Sayaka Takahashi (Jpn) 72 76, Ursula Wikstroem (Fin) 73 75

149 Catriona Matthew (Sco) 76 73, Pia Babnik (Slo) 79 70, Marianne Skarpnord (Nor) 79 70, Carlota Ciganda (Esp) 72 77, Yealimi Noh 75 74, Wei Ling Hsu (Tai) 75 74, Tiia Koivisto (Fin) 76 73, Mizuki Hashimoto (Jpn) (a) 73 76, Valery Plata (Col) (a) 77 72, Elizabeth Young (Eng) 73 76, Celine Palomar-Herbin (Fra) 77 72

150 Paphangkorn Tavatanakit (Tha) 75 75, Michele Thomson (Sco) 76 74, Lindsey Weaver-Wright 77 73, Ingrid Lindblad (Swe) (a) 74 76, Pei Yun Chien (Tai) 77 73

151 Sophia Schubert 79 72, Angel Yin 79 72, Thidapa Suwannapura (Tha) 74 77, Anna Davis (a) 76 75, Caley McGinty (Eng) (a) 82 69

152 Alexis Thompson 75 77, Minami Katsu (Jpn) 74 78, Allisen Corpuz 75 77, Kelly Tan (Mal) 76 76, Savannah De Bock (Bel) (a) 74 78

153 Magdalena Simmermacher (Arg) 82 71

154 Becky Brewerton (Wal) 75 79, Lauren Stephenson 76 78, Lauren Coughlin 79 75

155 Jess Baker (Eng) (a) 79 76, Hayley Davis (Eng) 80 75

156 Laura Davies (Eng) 75 81

157 Manon de Roey (Bel) 78 79

158 Carmen Alonso (Esp) 83 75

161 Jana Melichova (Cze) 78 83, Saiki Fujita (Jpn) 80 81

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times