Leona Maguire continues her LPGA Tour upward trajectory
Joint runner-up finish in top-class field in Hawaii further confirmation of growing status
Leona Maguire in action in Hawaii where she earned a career-best payday of $125,834. “I changed my irons, which have helped a huge amount, given myself a lot more chances and I’ve picked up extra yardage . . . . it’s all coming together quite nicely.” Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Leona Maguire’s box-ticking exercise has taken on increased significance, after her joint runner-up finish to Lydia Ko – the two-time Major champion and former world number one – in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii affirmed the 26-year-old Co Cavan golfer’s upward trajectory into a new level of expectation and delivery.
Although the breakthrough LPGA Tour win proved elusive on this occasion, Maguire’s tied-second place represented her career-best finish on the circuit and, in the process, moved her to 10th on this season’s order of merit rankings. It also moved her into the top-100 on the world rankings. In other words, she is trending ever higher.
In a year in which she will represent Ireland in the Olympics in Tokyo in August, Maguire’s current form raises the potential for her schedule to become even more crowded as she is very much on the radar of Europe’s Solheim Cup captain Caitríona Matthew for the match against the United States in Toledo, Ohio in September. Matthew has six wild card picks.
More immediately, Maguire – who earned a career-best payday of $125,834 for her brilliant work in Hawaii, bringing her season’s prizemoney to $226,542 – seeks to maintain her strong run of form when teeing up in this week’s Hugel-Air Premia Los Angeles Open at Wilshire Country Club in California.
“I’ve been calling home and calling my coach [Shane O’Grady] and saying, ‘it’s close, it’s close’, so it really is close now,” said Maguire whose improved form has come on the back on an intensive winter strength and conditioning programme, which has enabled her to add 20 yards to her driving, along with equipment changes that included a move to graphite shafts in her irons and putting a new driver in her bag at the recent ANA Inspiration.
“I changed my irons, which have helped a huge amount, given myself a lot more chances and I’ve picked up extra yardage . . . . it’s all coming together quite nicely.”
Of moving on to the LA tour stop, Maguire added: “I’ll try and carry forward this momentum. Obviously, it’s a quick turnaround. I don’t know the new course, it’s somewhere we haven’t been before, and I’m looking forward to that challenge . . . . hopefully we can finish off this stretch on a positive note.”
Maguire – into her second season on the LPGA Tour, but technically still a rookie after that category was voided last year due to Covid – produced a superb final round 67 for a total of 21-under-par 267 that saw her finish tied-second in a group alongside Inbee Park, Sei Young Kim and Nelly Korda.
Ko, with Ulsterman David Jones on the bag, was imperious in ending a three year winless drought on tour as she finished with a 65 for 260, which gave her a seven-shot winning margin over the chasing quartet.
It was the New Zealander’s 16th LPGA Tour title win, but first in 1,084 days as the two-time Major champion and former world number one capped off her recent revival in form with a commanding victory.
“There were times when I wondered, ‘hey, I don’t know if I’m ever going to be back in the winner’s circle’ . . . . you know, with Jordan Spieth and Hideki Mtsuyama winning the last couple weeks – and I know it’s been a while since they won as well – that kind of gave me a little bit of hope that maybe I could follow that trend,” said Ko.
On the PGA Tour, Shane Lowry produced a closing 66 – featuring six birdies and a lone bogey – for a total of 11-under-par 273 that moved him up the leaderboard (to tied-7th when he finished), as Stewart Cink sought to close the deal after carrying a five-stroke lead into the final round.
“I’m pretty happy with it, but I’m going to go away and think ‘what-if’ because I obviously shot two very good scores but was pretty poor [on Saturday].
Lowry had headed into the weekend in contention but fell away with a third round 72 on a day of hot scoring.
However, Lowry recovered with a strong final round – his birdies coming on the second, ninth, 11th, 12th, 14th and 17th while the lone bogey came on the 10th, where he drove into a water hazard – and now plans on taking a two-week break before resuming competitive play at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I just did my schedule at the start of the year up until now, and we said we’d kind of reassess and see where we are and see what we need to play going forward,” said Lowry.