The horseshoed birdie putt on the very first hole was, perhaps, an omen that it wouldn’t be Leona Maguire’s day on the greens; and, so, a third round of 71 for a total of two-under-par 211 through 54 holes effectively left the 27-year-old Co Cavan golfer standing still in the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield as South African Ashleigh Buhai moved into a commanding lead.
On a dry, windy day, players were again tested in this fifth and final Major championship of the year but Buhai — at 33 years of age and seeking a breakthrough Major title — seemed immune from the elements in signing for a 64 for 14-under-par 199.
A brilliantly constructed third round saw Buhai surge into the lead, on the back of eight birdies and a lone bogey on her closing hole for a 64 that equalled the low round of the championship, and which gave her a five-stroke lead over Japan’s Hinako Shibuno and South Korea’s In Gee Chun going into Sunday’s final round.
Buhai’s last tournament win came in the 2018 South African Open and she hasn’t had a top-10 on the LPGA Tour since the Palos Verdes Championship back in May. From somewhere, the current world number 84 has found form at the right time.
For Maguire, the forward momentum never got going. That horseshoe out on the first. An eagle putt that hung on the edge on the fifth hole, but stubbornly refused to drop. Other chances too went abegging. “I gave myself a few chances and didn’t really take advantage of them enough,” she admitted.
Then, again, there were excellent par saves from greenside bunkers on the seventh and eighth holes too. A round of two bogeys and two birdies and a lot of grafting to tread water.
“I never really got any momentum. I felt like I needed to be three- or four-under-par today … I felt like I didn’t do a whole lot wrong. It’s tricky to get close to some of those flags, especially on the back nine, the way the winds were.
“You could have got greedy but you could have got badly stung. So, it was one of those things, trying to hang in, to take your shots where you got them. I should have taken advantage more of the chances I had on the front nine. Overall? Level par (round) in a Major, in these conditions, is still nothing to be sniffed at,” said Maguire, who was tied-19th through three rounds.
With any realistic chance of challenging for the title gone, the recalibration will be to try to, as Maguire put it, “finish up as high as I possibly can … I have played some really good golf and I have one more day to try to hole a few putts. I feel like I’ve played solid all week. I stuck to a lot of my targets, drove the ball well, hit some nice shots, I just haven’t holed my fair share of putts.”