Ireland’s Maguire races into LPGA Mediheal Championship lead

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – Leona Maguire fired nine birdies in a sparkling seven-under par 65 on Thursday, matching the Mediheal Championship 18-hole scoring record to seize the first-round lead in the LPGA event.

Maguire, back in action after failing to qualify for last week’s United States (US) Women’s Open, posted four birdies in her first six holes on the back nine at Lake Merced Golf Club.

She answered a bogey at the 16th with back-to-back birdies at 17 and 18, then birdied three more holes coming in before giving a shot back at the ninth – her final hole.

She had a one-stroke lead over Jasmine Suwannapura of Thailand, who had eight birdies in her 66.

Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela and American Alison Lee shared third on 68 and South Korean star Park In-bee headlined a group of six players on three-under 69.

“I got off to a really nice start,” said Maguire, a former amateur world number one who has two wins on the developmental Symetra tour but is still seeking a first LPGA victory.

Leona Maguire of Ireland tees off from the ninth hole. PHOTO: AFP

“Birdied my opening two holes, which kind of settled me in quite nicely, holed some really good putts and in general it was a pretty stress-free day,” added Maguire, who hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation. “I hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens and, yeah, my putting was nice.”

Maguire said she felt at home at Lake Merced, where the chilly morning temperatures and the layout reminded her of courses in Ireland.

“It’s a lot of the same style of golf course, same weather as home,” she said. “Got a nice feeling straight away when we arrived on Monday.”

Despite her closing bogey, Maguire walked off the course with a four-shot lead.

But Jasmine – two-under after four birdies and two bogeys on the front nine – nabbed four birdies on the back nine, pulling within one of the lead with a birdie at the 18th.

Lee’s eventful round included a double bogey at the par-four 14th – promptly followed by an eagle at 15.

“I was very upset after 14,” Lee said. “I just made a really dumb mistake. Tried to make par and ended up making a double, so I was obviously a little bit upset on the tee box, and I hit a really good drive.

“I hit a good drive, a good second shot. I hit a five-iron in, just turned out great and I had a nice tap-in eagle putt.

“Definitely was an easy hole.”