Leona Maguire refreshed and ready to contend again at AIG Women’s Open

Irish golfer admits she has learned from her experience of leading at the most recent women’s Major

As aesthetic as the heather is around Walton Heath Golf Club in leafy Surrey, Leona Maguire is only too aware that venturing into the shrubbery is not part of the golfing GPS system over the coming days as the 28-year-old Co Cavan golfer goes in quest of a breakthrough Major title in the AIG Women’s Open.

Maguire, who led into the final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol last month before tiredness caught up with her in the last round, has mapped out a lead-up to this final Major of the season which has her fresh and invigorated for the challenge ahead.

Of that experience, she remarked: “It was obviously a new learning experience, to be in that situation in the lead last group Saturday and the lead last group Sunday and sort of the emotions and everything that went along with that. I’d like to think that if I get myself in that position again, I’ll approach it a little differently and I’ll have learned from that experience.”

Indeed, Maguire has built up a lot of experience through the years in the Majors (this will be her 27th, including those as an amateur) and knows what it is like in the head of battle.


“I think it’s a very different British Open test than we’ve had the last few years. The golf course is soft and there’s a lot of woods out there, and there will be a lot of hybrids. So it’s definitely playing long and I imagine it will dry out as the week goes on hopefully and a few tees will get moved around. It will be a really good test,” said Maguire, who finished fourth in the championship when it was played at Muirfield last year.

In a season in which she has racked up six top-10s, including a second career LPGA Tour win when claiming the Meijer Classic, Maguire – ranked 13th in the latest Rolex world rankings – observed: “Rankings are not something that I focus on too much. I think you focus on playing well and doing as well as you can at every tournament, and things like rankings just look after themselves.

“It’s the last Major of the year and one that I always look forward to every year and want to do well in, so we’ll focus on trying to play as well as we can this week and let rankings and all that take care of themselves.”

Maguire is one of three Irish players in the field, with fellow LPGA Tour cardholder Stephanie Meadow – who finished third in the Women’s PGA – looking to continue her own good form, while Elm Park amateur Anna Foster earned a place through final qualifying.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy is set to change putter – having used a Scotty Cameron Phantom X5.5 winged-mallet putter in the practice days – at the FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis, the first of three PGA Tour playoff tournaments.

McIlroy has struggled with his putting this season, currently ranked 86th in strokes gained (putting) on the US circuit.

The world number two is going for a fourth career FedEx Cup title – the St Jude will be followed by the BMW and the Tour Championship in successive weeks – and McIlroy had his coach Michael Bannon out in Florida last week as he prepped for Memphis.

Séamus Power, the only other Irish player in the limited 70 player field, is also resuming tournament play for the first time since he missed the cut at the Open Championship in Hoylake. The Waterford man has fully recovered from a hip injury that forced his withdrawal from the Scottish Open.

AIG Women’s Open

Purse: €8.2 million (€1.24 million to the winner)

Where: Tadworth, Surrey, England.

The course: Walton Heath (Old) – 6,881 yards, par 72 – is an old heathland course dating back to 1904 and designed by Herbert Fowler. It has included a number of noted politicians and historical figures among its membership (among them Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George) while five-time Open champion James Braid was the club professional for a number of years. A past Ryder Cup venue (1981), this is the venue’s first time to play host to the AIG Women’s Open, the fifth and last Major of the year on the LPGA Tour. It is an inland course with links characteristics and a high price for players who stray from the fairways with gorse and heather in abundance. It is marked by a tough opening stretch and an even tougher closing stretch from the 15th.

The field: All of the world’s leading players are in the field, headed by world number one Nelly Korda. Celine Boutier – who has won in back-to-back weeks at the Evian (a breakthrough Major for the French player) and the Scottish Open – could usurp her with a win.

Quote-Unquote: “Obviously it’s very difficult to defend, we all know this. There’s a lot of pressure. But I’m trying not to put pressure on myself … once I get out there, not to think about the outcome and control what I can in my golf swing.” – defending champion Ashleigh Buhai.

Irish in the field: Leona Maguire skipped last week’s Scottish Open and comes in fresh in her bid for a breakthrough Major title. The Cavan golfer has been put into a marquee group along with former world number one Jin Young Ko and Anna Nordqvist (8.09am); Stephanie Meadow is grouped with Eun-Hee Ji and Grace Kim (11.54am), while Irish amateur international Anna Foster’s reward for coming through the final qualifying is playing in a group alongside Lindy Duncan and Celine Herbin (2.55pm).

Betting: Celine Boutier’s hot form has seen her installed as market leader at 12-1 with Nelly Korda and Hyo Joo Kim rated 14-1 shots and the impressive new professional Rose Zhang at 16-1. It might be worth looking at Linn Grant, whose long hitting (if straight) could be an advantage, who is available at 20-1, while Leona Maguire’s strength of driving accuracy also has her on offer at 20-1.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 11am.

FedEx St Jude Classic

Purse: €18.25 million (€3.28 million to the winner)

Where: Memphis, Tennessee

The course: TPC Southwind – designed by Ron Prichard – is a 7,243 yards, par 70 layout that also had inputs from former tour players Fuzzy Zoeller, Hubert Green and Loren Roberts. There are just short of 100 bunkers strategically located throughout the layout while 10 water hazards come into play. A throwback to its days as a dairy farm prior to becoming a golf course is that two grains silos and a windmill are among the course features. There are two outstanding par threes on the homeward run: the 165 yards 11th hole, considered a shorter version of the 17th island hole at Sawgrass, and the 231 yards 14th which traditionally ranks as one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour. Inside the past year, a full conversion of the course to Xeon Zoysiagrass was completed while a number of fairways were recontoured due to the installation of an irrigation system.

The field: Given its position as the first of the three FedEx Cup playoff tournaments and limited to only the top-70 players after the PGA Tour’s regular season, it is top-heavy with those eyeing the big prize of winning the FedEx Cup itself (which will be awarded after the Tour Championship in three weeks). Scottie Scheffler currently heads the FedEx standings ahead of Rory McIlroy with world number one Jon Rahm in third but, mathematically, any of the 70 players in Memphis can go on to win the main prize. Defending champion Will Zalatoris is an absentee as he continues his recuperation from back surgery.

Quote-Unquote: “I haven’t done a lot the last couple of weeks so we’re going to be knocking some rust off for a couple of days, but I’m hoping to be ready to go.” – Brian Harman, playing for the first time since lifting the Claret Jug so emphatically at Royal Liverpool last month.

Irish in the field: Only two Irish players have made it to Memphis, after Shane Lowry failed to gatecrash the party in last week’s Wyndham Championship. Rory McIlroy, currently second on the FedEx Cup standings, is in a group with Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm (3.26pm Irish time); Séamus Power is in a group with Corey Conners and Chris Kirk (5.08pm Irish time).

Betting: Scottie Scheffler is the market leader at 13-2 but will need his putter to heat up on recent outings if he is to live up to those odds, while Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are each rated 8-1 shots. However, it might be worth going further down the field to two in-form players and recent winners who have good track records at TPC Southwind: Brian Harmon is available at 33-1 and Sepp Straka is on offer at 50-1.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 6pm.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times