Leona Maguire ends with bogey-free round for career-best major finish

Birdies dry up on the back nine but Cavan golfer ends in a tie for fourth

She brought her game face with her, almost as if the revered old links owed her something. And, as Leona Maguire navigated a route from tee to green on the terrain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in this historic edition of the AIG Women’s Open, each step was taken as if this turf belonged to her as much as anyone.

What we witnessed was a display of wonderful shot-making, and of patience ... and more! For, in a round of 66 that was bogey-free and the best of anyone in the final round, Maguire – a Solheim Cup star of last year – again showcased how her game and mentality is made for the very toughest of championships.

The irony of it all was that it could even have been better, for a few birdie putts – most especially on the 14th and 15th holes, the two registered as the most difficult of all through the championship – either lipped out or grazed the cup or broke at the death.

Yet, this was another demonstration from Maguire of how much she belongs in the very elite of the women’s professional game. From the time she was introduced on the first tee to a warm round of applause from those gathered in the horse-show stand, her deeds brought with it a growing army of fans and admirers.

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There were those there from the very start, the woman with an Irish tricolour wrapped around her shoulders, the captain from Stackstown Golf Club on a break from her duties at her home club, the teenagers who had followed her all day Saturday and were back for more, and of course her family members. But also those new army of fans, like the young man who had taken a 16-hour road trip from Exeter with Maguire as his must see player.

Maguire didn’t disappoint any of them, nor indeed herself either. On a final day of strong winds, she was the only player in the entire field to go bogey-free; and, through most of it, the quality of her ball-striking, especially with fairway woods, was a thing to behold as she moved up the leaderboard so that when her work was done she achieved a career-best finish in a Major of tied-fourth.

Through it all, she stuck to her routine; the trigger of pointing her index finger down the grip before actually interlocking the hands. The same process on the green before putts, using Aim Point to decipher the read before diligently positioning the ball and removing the marker. The upshot was a round that produced an eagle – on the fifth – to go with three birdies.

The first of those birdies arrived on the par three fourth, where she hit her tee-shot to eight feet, and the eagle came on the par five fifth, where a majestically struck fairway wood worked its way up on to the green and left her with an eight foot putt which was duly dispatched.

Maguire turned in 33 strokes – with the 31 flags alongside the driving range of nations in alphabetical order going from Argentina to Wales whistling a tune in the wind – and then birdied the 11th and 13th to move ever closer to the top of the leaderboard. In between, on the 12th, there was a brilliant sand save from a greenside bunker.

But, after the 13th, the birdies dried up. There were chances. On the 14th. That one looked for all the world like dropping, with a loud “Yes!” coming out of someone’s mouth only for the ball to lip out. Then, the 15th. The 17th. No more fell. Still, it was a magnificent final round and a wonderful effort.

“I didn’t really look at too many leader boards. I knew I would be moving (up). I knew the conditions were tough and nobody going out early had gone too low. So, I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could, just post a number. On the back nine the scoreboards are pretty obvious at the backs of the greens so I knew where I was, but I wasn’t paying too much attention.

“I could have holed a couple more putts, would have been nice to get the ones on 14 and 15 but overall bogey-free 66 in the last round of a big, I’m pretty happy … I putted better today. It is tough, the wind is buffeting around, it takes a lot of mental energy but I felt like I stayed really patient all week. It was nice to finish off with my best round of the week, I felt the potential was there all week and nice to actually do it on a Sunday,” she said.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times