Leona Maguire the star attraction at ISPS Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland

Lowdowns: Séamus Power has work to do if he is to fulfil his ambition of making it to the Tour Championship

The poster girl, and for good reason. Leona Maguire, the best-ranked player in the Rolex world rankings competing in the ISPS Handa World Invitational, at number 14, is hoping her second half of a season already featuring a win on the LPGA Tour moves her into “bonus” territory.

Although the 28-year-old Cavan golfer failed to get into the mix at last week’s AIG Women’s Open, ultimately finishing tied-30th in what was the last of five Majors on the women’s circuit, Maguire – who claimed her second career win on the LPGA when winning the Meijer Classic back in June – has a lot of golf still to play.

This week’s unique tournament – featuring women and men playing in separate tournaments on the same days – kick-starts a late season that has two events in Ireland, the ISPS Handa and the KPMG Irish Open, ahead of the Solheim Cup in Spain and then a return stateside for the run-in to the Tour Championship.

“I suppose the way the year has gone, getting the win, everything that happens for the second half of the season is kind of a bonus. I’m not really putting too much pressure on myself. [I just want to] enjoy these few weeks of golf and the last of the European stretch and then we’ll finish the season off really strong,” said Maguire, who observed of her game:


“All the pieces are there. It’s just getting them to click at the right time. Hopefully that can happen over the next few weeks again.”

This year’s tournament sees a change of one venue, with Castlerock – a links – replacing lakeshore Massereene course as the second in use along with Galgorm Castle. Maguire and Stephanie Meadow played a practice round on Tuesday, where she experienced four seasons in one day, at the less familiar Castlerock.

“It’s a pure links course. The conditions will very much be dependent on weather. There’s semi-blind tee shots and things like that. Like on any golf course, you need to stay out of those pot bunkers that can be pretty penal,” said Maguire of that seaside challenge.

Of getting prepared for two different types of examinations, one parkland and one links, Maguire remarked:

“I think in links in particular [is challenging]. I think with the winds, there’s some shots that you can hit four different clubs and there’s not really a right or a wrong club. It’s whatever you think at that moment in time.

“Whereas at Galgorm it’s more target golf and you’re just going to hit it straight at the pin. [There’s] an adjustment in mindset, but I think that’s the fun of it. I think it’s nice when you have to be a little bit more creative and use your imagination a little bit, and it’s not just stand up and hit it wherever you want.

“I think that’s the beauty of links golf. We played Castlerock pretty calm [on Tuesday] in one wind, and then on Thursday and Friday it could be completely different. It can be you hit driver, wedge one day and it could be driver, 3-wood the next day, so it kind of depends and you have to sort of judge it when you get there and take each one as it comes.”

Maguire – who has six top-10s, including the win in the Meijer Classic, in 16 tournaments so far this season across the LPGA Tour and the LET – has carefully mapped out her schedule this season. And this is one tournament that would have been circled early on as a target for some silverware.

Meanwhile, Séamus Power has work to do if he is to fulfil his own ambition of making it to the Tour Championship, next week’s finale on the PGA Tour.

Power is competing in the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields outside Chicago where he heads in placed 35th in the FedEx Cup standings but needing to move inside the top-30 at the tournament’s conclusion if he is to make it to the megabucks shindig in Atlanta.

ISPS Handa World Invitational

Purse: €1.35 million x 2 (€250,000 to each winner)

Where: Galgorm Castle, Co Antrim and Castlerock, Co Derry

The course: Two tournaments – men’s on the DP World Tour and women’s co-sanctioned on the LPGA Tour and LET – run concurrently: the first two rounds see players competing on both Galgorm Castle and Castlerock before the 36-hole cut is followed by a second cut after the third round. Castlerock, a wonderful links, is a new venue while Galgorm Castle – one of the finest parkland courses in the North – is the traditional home of the tournament and will host the final two rounds.

The field: The men’s event is bolstered by the fact the tournament is just one of three left in Europe’s Ryder Cup automatic qualifying process, with Bob MacIntyre and Victor Perez – each with eyes on getting to Rome as part of Luke Donald’s team – competing. The women’s event is headlined by Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow and Solheim Cupper Georgia Hall.

Quote-Unquote: “I’m just trying to take it one day at a time and one shot at a time and if I play great, then it’s a fabulous week to do it. And if I don’t, then unfortunately it’s just another week on tour.” – Stephanie Meadow on dealing with expectations.

Irish in the field: There are 11 Irish players in the men’s tournament, including Tom McKibbin who recently made his tour breakthrough win in the European Open: First round at Galgorm – 8.03am (1st tee) Dermot McElroy; 8.25am (1st) JR Galbraith; 8.25am (10th) Niall Kearney; 8.47am (1st) Cormac Sharvin; 9.09 (1st) Ruaidhrí McGee; 12.41pm (10th) John Murphy; 1.03pm (1st) Tom McKibbin; 1.25pm (10th) Damien McGrane. First round at Castlerock – 8.47am (10th) Jonathan Caldwell; 1.47pm (1st) David Carey; 2.09pm (10th) Max Kennedy.

There are four Irish players in the women’s tournament, with Stephanie Meadow a past winner in 2019 when it was solely an LET event: First round at Galgorm – 7.52am (1st) Jessica Ross; 8.14am (10th) Leona Maguire; 12.52pm (1st) Stephanie Meadow; 1.58pm (1st) Olivia Mehaffey.

Betting: In the men’s, MacIntyre is the 12-1 favourite ahead of fellow Scot and defending champion Ewen Ferguson who is priced at 16-1. McKibbin is more familiar than anyone with Galgorm and looks decently priced at 22-1 while Caldwell has shown good form of late on the Challenge Tour and is worth an each-way look at 100-1. In the women’s, Leona Maguire is a hot favourite at 9-2 with Georgia Hall rated a 7-1 chance. Stephanie Meadow is worth an each-way look at 50s.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports (from 1pm).

BMW Championship

Purse: €18.5 million (€3.3 million to the winner)

Where: Chicago, Illinois

The course: The North Course at Olympia Fields – 7,366 yards, par 70 – is a storied venue in the Chicago area originally designed by Willie Park jnr. Although modernised ahead of the 2003 US Open (won by Jim Furyk), the layout has remained true to Park’s design philosophy. There are 91 bunkers on the course and eight holes feature water hazards. It last hosted the BMW in 2020 when Jon Rahm defeated Dustin Johnson in a playoff.

The field: As the second of three FedEx Cup playoff tournaments, the BMW has a limited field of just 50 players. It features nine of the world’s top-10 – LIV defector Cameron Smith being the exception – and, heading into the event, Jon Rahm tops the FedEx Cup standings ahead of Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy. Lucas Glover’s rich vein of form has seen him leapfrog to fourth in the standings as he seeks for a third straight win, following his successes in the Wyndham and the St Jude Classic.

Quote-Unquote: “[The] point of coming to the playoffs is to give yourself the best chance to get to East Lake on the number one spot. I’ve done a pretty good job so far. Hopefully this week I can have a good performance like I did last time and earn it and clinch it and give myself the best shot for the [FedEx Cup] win. It’s been a great year so far, so hopefully I can end it off the way I started it” – Jon Rahm.

Irish in the field: Rory McIlroy is paired with Lucas Glover (off the 1st at 4.10pm Irish time); Séamus Power is paired with Lee Hodges (off the 1st at 5.05pm).

Betting: Rory McIlroy heads into the tournament with a string of top-10s since the PGA Championship – eight straight, including a win at the Scottish Open – and is the market leader at 15-2 with Scottie Scheffler rated an 8-1 shot and Rahm 9-1. Tommy Fleetwood’s quest for a win on the PGA Tour continues and he has shown good form of late and is worth a look at 25-1.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports (featured groups from 6pm).

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times