Home Stroke Leona Maguire one stroke off the lead in the year’s first Major

Leona Maguire one stroke off the lead in the year’s first Major

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Ireland’s Leona Maguire is firmly in the mix in the first Major of the year, after she carded a fine opening round of 67 in the ANA Inspiration at Rancho Mirage in California.

Maguire’s round leaves her on five under par and in a share of second place alongside China’s Shanshan Feng, with Thailand’s Paphangkorn Tavatanakit one shot clear on six under.

26-year-old Maguire got her round off to a white-hot start with back-to-back birdies on the first and second holes, before giving a stroke back with her only bogey of the day on the par four third.

She rediscovered her spark with a birdie on the ninth however and after the turn enjoyed a stunning back nine, with birdies on 12, 15 and 18 leaving her in a strong position heading into Friday’s second round.

Stephanie Meadow, too, made a strong start in the tournament: the Northern Irishwoman shot an opening round of one-under-par 71, which featured three birdies – at the second, ninth and 14th – along with two bogeys, at the third and 15th, to get off to a solid beginning in the Californian desert.

For the 31-year-old Chinese player Feng, who hadn’t played competitively since the 2019 Tour Championship after deciding not to travel anywhere last year as Covid-19 impacted around the globe, her return to competition brought a stunning reward in moving to within one stroke of the lead held by Thailand’s Tavatanakit.

Feng has 23 career wins around the globe in a career which so far has yielded one Major title, the 2012 US LPGA Championship.

She claimed most of her thoughts over the past year had been what to have for breakfast, then lunch and then dinner, but the former world number one ranked player showed there was no rustiness from any lack of competition as she immediately jumped into contention.

Stephanie Meadow shot an opening round of one-under-par 71 at the ANA Inspiration at the Dinah Shore course in Rancho Mirage, California. Photograph: Getty Images
Stephanie Meadow shot an opening round of one-under-par 71 at the ANA Inspiration at the Dinah Shore course in Rancho Mirage, California. Photograph: Getty Images

Revival

On the PGA Tour, Jordan Spieth’s revival in form – having fallen as low as 92nd in the world rankings as recently as January – continued on familiar terrain at TPC San Antonio as he signed for an opening round 67, five-under-par, in the Valero Texas Open, his final outing ahead of next week’s Masters tournament.

Spieth is three off the lead of Colombia’s Camilo Villegas, who shot the lights out with a 64 to take a two stroke lead from Korea’s Sung-Hoon Kang and America’s Cameron Tringale.

Graeme McDowell, however, failed to carry on the momentum of a top-five finish in last week’s Corales Puntacana tournament in Dominican Republic and opened with a two-over-par 74 that is likely to see him fighting to survive the midway cut. McDowell is one of those players in the field seeking a win to claim the last exemption into the Masters.

Spieth’s improved form of late – four top-10s in his last six outings on tour – has come at a good time, with the Masters looming, but he confessed that the opening round was hardly his best in terms of ball-striking to the point he was required to play a provisional on the ninth, his closing hole.

It led to an honest conversation with his caddie Michael Greller as the wild tee-shot went AWOL. “I was telling him, ‘man, I just can’t find the centre of the face right now’. I hit that one as much off the heel as the one before, just make sure I was playing draw versus fade. It was just an off day on contact,” said Spieth, who hit the range in an effort to “clean it up a little bit.”

As he expanded: “I’ve got all afternoon to figure that out on the range. I had really bad contact today. Normally, even if I don’t necessarily strike the ball well, normally I’m hitting it close to the middle of the face. I mean, the right ones are because I hit some toe balls on the front nine and now I’m playing fade and you don’t want to toe it. So I hit it off the heel and those are going to spin over.

“So it just got a little bit off there today off the tee on contact. The rest of the swing, I mean, I feel like I’m swinging the same and out in front of it and putting a good move on it. When you’re off by five, six millimetres off of contact on either side, it will affect that ball flight and get you thinking a little more.”

Meanwhile the in-form Scottie Scheffler who continued the momentum of his play at the WGC-Dell Technologies where he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel.

Scheffler opened with a 68 – six birdies, two bogeys – to move into contention. “I felt like I played pretty solid overall. I made a few silly mistakes here and there, kind of two sloppy bogeys, but other than that I felt I played really solid,” said Scheffler, who is seeking his first win on tour.

https://www.irishtimes.com/sport/golf/leona-maguire-one-stroke-off-the-lead-in-the-year-s-first-major-1.4526786

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