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Leona Maguire Aims to Carry European Hopes at Women’s PGA Championship

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Leona Maguire, the talented golfer from Ireland, is poised to represent Europe’s aspirations in the upcoming KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at the renowned Baltusrol course in New Jersey.

After her recent victory at the LPGA Classic, where she showcased her exceptional skills with a remarkable back-nine 30 in a closing 64, Maguire enters the championship as the player in form. Having finished as the runner-up in the previous two years, her triumph in Michigan has instilled her with confidence as she pursues her first major win in one of the most challenging golf tests. Maguire believes her recent victory has prepared her well for this significant event.

Maguire has diligently studied the layout of Baltusrol, which hosted the men’s US PGA Championships in 2005 and 2016, won by Phil Mickelson and Jimmy Walker, respectively. Describing the course as “beastly” and a true major venue, the 28-year-old golfer from Cavan feels positive about her performance after driving the ball exceptionally well in her previous win. She anticipates firm and fast greens, similar to the conditions she encountered in Michigan, creating a slightly different but equally demanding challenge as a major championship.

With a notable upward trajectory, Maguire increasingly resembles a potential major winner in waiting. Her recent achievements include reaching the semifinals in the LPGA Match Play and securing a seventh-place finish at the Mizuho Americas Open, which was won by Rose Zhang in her debut on the tour. Maguire attributes her improved short game to the guidance of Padraig Harrington, a three-time major winner, who played a crucial role in her latest success. Harrington’s own experience at the 2016 PGA, where he finished 13th with a six-under-par score, may offer further valuable advice to Maguire this week.

Baltusrol’s selection as the championship venue reflects a trend in women’s golf to hold major tournaments at historic courses. The upcoming US Open, scheduled for next month, will take place at Pebble Beach, further enhancing the profile of women’s golf. Major tournaments like the AIG Women’s Open have been played on renowned British links courses such as the Old Course at St Andrews, Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham, and, for the first time last year, Muirfield. This policy aims to raise the stature of such events, which boasted record prize money of $9 million in 2022. Despite the significant pay gap between women’s and men’s golf, these tournaments offer opportunities to increase awareness and generate captivating storylines.

While Leona Maguire leads the charge for European players, the spotlight during the build-up will also be on 20-year-old Rose Zhang, who commenced her professional career with a sensational victory in her debut tournament. The American golf media has lavished praise on Zhang, with comparisons to Stanford University alumni Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West, highlighting her potential to transform the game. The pressure is on for Zhang, who competed in eight majors as an amateur, achieving her best result with a tied 11th place at the 2020 ANA Inspiration (now Chevron Championship).

Last year’s Women’s PGA Championship saw South Korea’s In Gee Chun triumph in a thrilling competition, narrowly surpassing Lexi Thompson and Minjee Lee, the US Open winner. Nelly Korda, the current world number two, emerged as the winner of that major in 2021. The British contingent, consisting of Georgia Hall and Charley Hull, once again carries hopes for a British victory. Hall, ranked eighth in the world, has attained two runner-up finishes this season, but her performance in the last five events has yielded only one top-10 result. Hull, who achieved second place at the Tournament of Champions in January, failed to make the cut at the Chevron and last week’s tournament in Michigan.

Jin Young Ko, the top-ranked player in the world, enters the championship in excellent form, having secured two wins and four top-10 finishes in her last seven events. Another promising contender to watch is 20-year-old Thai golfer Atthaya Thitikul, as she seeks her first major title. Additionally, the performance of Linn Grant, the LET’s Race to Costa Del Sol champion, will be intriguing to observe now that her unvaccinated status no longer poses travel restrictions to the US. The 23-year-old Swede, along with Leona Maguire, stands as a strong candidate to bring European success to this week’s championship.

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