Maguire and Meadow searching for some Major Inspiration in California

McDowell and Harrington chase last Masters ticket at Texas Open

It would signal a good week's work for Leona Maguire or Stephanie Meadow should it pass that either of them is required to jump into Poppie's Pond, for that is the ritual traditionally associated with winning the ANA Inspiration – the first Major of the year – which takes place at Rancho Mirage in California.

Mirim Lee was the last champion to make the leap into the water hazard, in last year's better-late-than-never staging of the championship which took place in September rather than its usual April slot in the calendar due to the impact of Covid-19. And this latest edition – its 50th anniversary – has gathered a full-strength field, among them the two Irish players who each have top-20 finishes on the course in past years.

In her second season on the LPGA Tour, but still classified as a rookie, Maguire earned her place in the field courtesy of a tied-18th finish behind Lee last September and has impressed on her outings so far this season – which included a tied-sixth finish in the LPGA Gainbridge – in heading into what will be her eighth career appearance in a Major championship.

Nelly Korda, the fourth ranked player in the Rolex rankings and a runner-up to Lee in last September's staging, is among those seeking a breakthrough Major title. Part of her strategy is to forget about last September's close run tournament. "It's more of letting it go and starting all over again. It's honestly a completely different golf course. I'm pretty sure the rough was thicker last year . . . every week is a new opportunity and I'll go in with the same mindset every week trying to win," said Korda.

On the PGA Tour, the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio offers the prospect of a late invitation to next week's Masters tournament if whoever lifts the trophy come Sunday isn't yet exempt.

Graeme McDowell, on the back of a top-five finish in the Dominican Republic, and Pádraig Harrington, in search of a sharper short game, are among those players – also including Rickie Fowler – who would need that win to add Augusta National onto their scheduling.

“I’ve really struggled with my short game and that’s becoming a bit of the story for me this year. It is very unusual for me to struggle with my chipping . . . and I need to get my head in a good space,” said Harrington ahead of the tournament in Texas.

Dustin Johnson, the world number one, had originally entered the tournament but changed his mind and withdrew – with Ryan Brehm getting his place in the field off the reserve list – to stay at home in Florida and prepare for his defence of the Masters next week.

Joel Dahmen’s career breakthrough win in the Corales Puntacana tournament didn’t earn him a Masters exemption and the American is another of those chasing a late ticket. Dahmen’s win came out of the blue, as he had missed the cut in six of his previous seven tournaments.

“Doubts are always going to creep in,” acknowledged Dahmen of that poor run of form impacting, “but I’ve always played pretty well [on the PGA Tour], very consistent, so that helps a lot . . . as far as goals, I want to compete in Majors. I had a top-10 last year in the PGA and I feel like my game can translate [to Majors].

“For me to go through that downturn for six or seven weeks was not very much fun but it was one of those things that you’re like, ‘well, all right, I’m going to break out of this eventually’, but is it going to be a made cut, is it going to be a top-40, top-10?

“And then all of a sudden to come out of that slump with a win is great, it’s validation that I was as close as I thought I was. I knew my game was there, I just had to do it.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times