The challenges of links terrain are numerous, which is why it is the purest form of golf. On the 11th hole of her second round of this historic AIG Women’s Open on the venerable home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers by the Firth of Forth, Leona Maguire walked up to a greenside bunker to find her ball plugged up its face and with a seemingly impossible shot to escape it.
She kept her patience, weighed up the options and, finally, with left leg bent over so that her foot was wedged on the ground above the trap, and her right foot placed firmly in the sand, the world number 22 conjured up a shot that somehow managed to get the ball on an upward trajectory and out to the grass just short of the putting surface.
Maguire didn’t manage to save par with her next putt downhill but she did ultimately sink a five footer for a bogey and, in so doing, kept a damaging double off her card.
And, on a day when she had an eagle and finished with three birdies in the last five holes, including back-to-back on the 14th and 15th, two of the toughest holes on the course, a second round 69 for a midway total of 140, two under par, to move into contention in the fifth and final Major of the year.
Maguire’s round of mainly ups and a few downs perfectly demonstrated how links golf can give and take and demand that the virtue of patience is as important as any yardage or club selection.
The eagle, for example, came on the par-five fifth hole just after she’d bogeyed the fourth hole for a second straight day. Left with 224 yards to the pin, and 209 to the front of the green, Maguire hit the 4-hybrid she’d placed in her bag rather than her favoured 9-wood for this week of links and saw the approach shot get a favourable kick so that it rested four feet from the flag. She rolled in the eagle putt – “That eagle was big,” she would later admit – as she turned in 35 to get to one under on her round and for the championship.
“You can’t switch off for a second. The bunkers are very penal. You go from having a four foot eagle putt on five to all of a sudden you are plugged up the bunker on 11 and figuring out how you are going to make a bogey. You can’t get too up or too down. You have to stay very patient, stay very calm and think through all your options,” said Maguire.
Unfortunately for Maguire, another bogey proved costly as she moved into the tough homeward stretch. On the par-three 13th, her tee shot moved right almost from the time ball left club and, to her dismay, found another of those pot bunkers strategically located to inflict most pain. Maguire played out to 20 feet but failed to save par. She had moved to one over and needed to find something. Which is what she did.
The 14th hole had played as the toughest of all in the first round, yielding only four birdies and playing to an average score of 4.58. Maguire hit a fine drive and, then, with 179 yards into the teeth of the wind, hit her 5-wood approach to five feet for a birdie. “I couldn’t have hit it any better,” she conceded.
On the 15th hole, which had given up only one birdie on day one, Maguire’s approach from 191 yards snuck on to the putting surface. Left with a putt of 55 feet, she sank the raker. “It made up for all the ones I missed on the front nine all at once, so a nice bonus to birdie those two holes,” she said. The momentum had shifted. She was very much in the mix.
Then, on the 17th, the only par five on the back nine, and playing downwind, Maguire’s approach took one of those kicks that love to play devilment with players. It kicked right and into one of those pot bunkers some 35 yards from the pin. Unlike the lie on the 11th, where it was almost a part of the face, this time she had a flat lie.
“It is that awkward length of a bunker shot, but I committed to it. It was on the flat and that’s all you can hope for in these pot bunkers, that you have a decent stance and a decent swing,” said Maguire, who executed it beautifully so that she was left with a five footer for birdie, which she holed.
A finishing par – on a hole where one of her playing partners, Lydia Ko, ran up a double-bogey six after visiting a bunker off the tee and again at greenside – was sufficient to leave Maguire signing for a 69 for 140 that put her into a strong position heading into the weekend.
“If you’d offered me two under standing on the 14th tee I would have grabbed it with two hands. It is a nice position to be going into the weekend, some nice momentum finishing off today. Just try and build on that,” said Maguire.