Peter Koutroumpis (@pksport)
SOUTHERN PINES, NC – Best to keep expectations low coming into a major championship.
Particularly with little previous success to draw from.
A conservative mindset at best anyway, but that’s what Leona Maguire, a Duke alumna, intended to follow when she teed it up at the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club.
It seems to be serving her well following a 3-under par finish in third-round play on Saturday that seats her at 5-over par and tied 10th overall heading into Sunday’s final round.
Making the Cut
Having missed the cut the previous three times she played in this champlonship, Maguire needed to allow herself some room to follow the flow of her recent success and play, including her first LPGA Tour victory in February at the LPGA Drive On Championship.
Coming in, and drawing from past experience, she understood the difference between regular Tour events and a Major.
“Major championships, they’re just usually more demanding golf courses,” Maguire pointed out following a practice round earlier in the week.
“I think it’s easy to hit a million chip shots and a million shots and trying to be almost over-prepared. You try not treat it differently. The golf courses are just harder, there’s just more shots and it ultimately boils down to execution. And for those reasons, a lot of that means you have to be as fresh as possible; and so it’s sort of getting that balance between being prepared enough that you’re ready to go, and also not completely tire yourself out by the time the weekend comes.”
Her play followed her words to the letter.
She posted back-to-back 1-under par 70s during her first two rounds, well-distanced from the cut line of +3.
She felt really good about going low twice, having never done so before in the event.
“I think I did a really good job at staying patient, staying disciplined, committing to my targets into the greens,” she said after she stepped of the 18th green Friday.
“Played fairly conservatively, I would say. Made some nice putts when I needed to, and I had a few key up and downs, and kind of kept the momentum going.
“That’s the challenge of a U.S. Open. You can’t switch off for a second. You have to keep committing to your targets and just try and hit them in the right spots and take advantage. There are some shorter holes, some par-5s and 8, 9 – there’s some good chances there and you have to take your chances there and then take your pars on the harder holes.”
Action, not just words
On Saturday, she stepped it up accordingly to the plan.
A birdie on the par-5 first hole helped to keep scoring momentum from the previous day going.
Even though successive bogeys on holes 3 and 4 tripped her up slightly, birdies on 9, 10, 12 and 13 setup a bogey-free back nine finish, sitting eight strokes off the lead.
“I felt like the scorecard looked like I got off to a slow start, but I hit a really good shot on 4 and a really good shot on 5 and kind of got punished for them,” Maguire recounted.
“My caddie was just telling me to stay really patient, and yeah, the birdie on 9 gave me some good momentum heading into the back nine, and nice birdie on 10. And that par putt on 11, I raced it by on 11, and that was really massive for momentum, getting that one to drop; 12 and 13 are two of the hardest holes out here, so it was a bonus to pick up those two.”
Following three solid rounds, arguably her best play in a U.S. Open championship, Maguire is focused on doing much of the same to finish it off right.
Though she will try to cut the margin between her and leader Minjin Lee (-13) as much as possible, it will only happen following the plan she set forward coming into this tournament and has continued to draw from daily.
“I think it’s just being really disciplined, not trying to chase after some of the pins,” she concluded.
“They’re tempting to go after some of the pins, but it’s just so penal if you miss them in the wrong spots. I’m quite a few shots back, but you never know. Things can turn pretty quickly in a major championship. I’ll just try and post a number tomorrow and see what happens.”