Leaders steal a march on Maguire as dark clouds follow home hope

It was a day to forget for Leona Maguire as the LPMG Women’s Irish Open leaders stole a march on the local favorite but this remains a tournament on course to provide plenty more drama over the weekend’s final rounds.

With Sweden’s Moa Folke entering the weekend 10 strokes better than the de facto event figurehead yesterday to move the halfway lead to 12 under par following a career-best, 10-under-par 62, Maguire failed to build on her encouraging opening-round 67 with a three-over-par 75 that saw the LPGA Tour star slide down the leaderboard.

The good news is that Ireland’s greatest female golfer is set to keep the flag flying on the Ladies European Tour in County Clare, despite flirting with the midway cutline for much of yesterday afternoon following her lunchtime finish at an immaculately-presented Dromoland Castle.

On a day of changeable weather, it was a metaphorical dark cloud that followed the star attraction throughout a difficult second nine in particular. Starting on the back nine of this par-72 course, an early bogey at the par-three 13th was soon erased with a birdie at the 15th and another at the 18th for the second day in a row saw Maguire make the turn set fair for a challenge to the frontrunners.

Except that was when darkness descended. At the second, her 11th, her drive took a bounce into the trees off a cart path for the first of four bogeys in a row. The second at the par-three third saw Maguire first miss the green and then chip over it before finding the putting surface. Momentum was lost, two more bogeys followed and hopes of maintaining pace with the leaders were lost, at least for the day. The Cavan native, who won her maiden LPGA Tour title in February and logged her best major finish, a tie for fourth, at last month’s British Women’s Open at Muirfield, declined to speak to the media afterwards and will start her third round on two- under par. With 10 shots to make up, Maguire will probably need a third round in the mid-60s or lower to get back in touch with the leader ahead of the final round.

What she would give for the round Folke compiled yesterday, a career-best 62 capped with an eagle three at the par-five 18th that belied her world Rolex Ranking of 606. It even included a bogey at the 11th after the long-hitting Swede , pulling her own bag without a caddy, attempted to drive the par-four green. It was a signal of the 27-year-old’s intent to stay aggressive on a course that is very much to her liking, even if she could not quite believe what she had achieved.

“I don’t know what happened out there really,” Folke admitted with a huge smile. “All the putts just seemed to go into today, I hit some really good shots and I’m really happy but I don’t know if I can understand what happened.

“I think everything just came together. I made some mistakes but still ended up in good spots and then I made a lot of putts, I’m not going to lie.

“I think it’s a course that sets up for aggressive play and usually it pays off to be aggressive. I had that one bogey when I went for the green and ended up with a bogey but yes, it worked out.”

Folke, with a two-shot lead on her closest rivals, said she would enlist a local caddy for Saturday’s third round but Maguire will be the only home competitor over the weekend when bigger crowds are expected now there is no school to keep families away from the splendor of Dromoland. It is a shame, though, that the pupils at Chríost Rí in Ennis will not get to see one of their own after teacher and Irish international Aideen Walsh, one of six home amateurs hand the opportunity to play this week, missed the midway cut by a stroke.

Walsh had impressed on her home course with an opening one-under 71 on Thursday but in more difficult conditions could not maintain her push with a birdie at the last not enough to push her into the weekend’s play. Walsh, 24, signed for a 73 and finished each week at level par.

Irish junior international Marina Joyce Moreno’s joy at a first-round hole in one turned to disappointment with a second-round 76 that sent her to six over, fellow amateurs Katie Poots of Knock and Clandeboye’s Rebekah Gardner finished a further three shots back and 14- year-old Olivia Costello from Roscommon finished with an improved score of 76 to make up for her opening 79 in a week none of them will forget.

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