Leona Maguire’s disappointment at a missed title opportunity gave way to bright optimism for the future of the KPMG Women’s Irish Open after branding the event’s relaunch a “tremendous success”.
Maguire’s bid to win her national Open on the tournament’s renewal after a 10-year hiatus from the Ladies European Tour schedule came up just short in County Clare yesterday as she missed a play-off by a single stroke.
That left a three-player shootout in front of a large proportion of an impressive final-day crowd of 10,000 spectators between Finland’s Ursula Wikstrom, Denmark’s Nicole Broch Estrup and the eventual champion Klara Spilkova of the Czech Republic, who picked up a winner’s cheque for €60,000 after a birdie at the 18th, the first extra hole.
Maguire’s final-round, four-under-par 68 put her into a four-way share of fourth pace on 13 under par, just short of her target but the 27-year-old Irish star, already a first-time champion on the LPGA Tour this season, was able to see the bigger picture of a tournament in rude health thanks to the presentation of the course at Dromoland Castle, the positive feedback of the players and the strength of public support, a weekly attendance of more than 24,000, that was way above a regular-season Ladies European Tour stop.
Dromoland Castle, which took the unusual step of underwriting the tournament’s return, is understood to have first refusal on bringing it back to the five-star hotel and golf complex near Shannon Airport and Maguire has committed to play the Women’s Irish Open for the next two years at least.
After a hastily arranged rebirth was shoehorned into a gap week in the LET schedule, the hope is that a more permanent fixture can be found during the summer months when more LPGA Tour players could be tempted over ahead of either of the European-based majors, the Women’s British Open or Evian Championship and Ireland’s US-stationed collegiate golfing elite is at home to gain experience in a professional event.
Maguire is certainly looking ahead to a bright future for a tournament of which she has become the figurehead.
“I think it’s been a tremendous success,” she said. “It’s been 10 years in the making this event and Dromoland has been a great venue for it. I think the course held up very, very well. We were blessed with the weather and now we have KPMG backing it so hopefully this event can get bigger and attract a big, world-class field in years to come, hopefully if we get a little bit better date.
“The crowds are going to continue to realise how great women’s golf is in Ireland and on the LET.
Jet lag after a flight from the west coast of America, had caught up with her on Friday and manifested itself in a run of four consecutive second-nine bogeys that sent Maguire tumbling down the leaderboard with a 75 after an opening 67. Yet it was a reinvigorated woman who returned to the course on Saturday and shot the round of the day, a seven-under 65, that saw her boomerang back into contention.
Maguire started the final round just two shots off the 54-hole lead held by Dutch Solheim Cup player Anne Van Dam at 11 under par but her previous troubles on the opening holes resurfaced and she bogeyed her first two holes, the par-four first for the third time this week and the longer par-four second for the second time.
There would, thankfully for the large gallery that has stuck by Maguire throughout the four rounds in County Clare, be no horrors to follow as there had been on Friday but there was the disappointment of not quite getting the job done and her negotiation of the first five holes across the week in eight over par underlined the deflation.
It was not that she made errors, just the inroads made with five birdies in her final 12 holes were not big enough. Back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14 did get the crowd dreaming of a home victory as she moved to within a shot of the lead at 12 under but a missed six-foot birdie putt at the 15th meant Maguire needed an eagle from at least one of the closing par-fives at 16 and 18 to join the co-leaders on 14 under. Instead it was a birdie-par-birdie finish, her race was run.
“I feel like Saturday and Sunday I couldn’t have given it any more than I did. Friday obviously is the disappointing round in there but gave it absolutely all I could and I couldn’t ask for much more than that.” For Spilkova, 27 and 11 years a professional, there was a greater reward for her return to Europe after a summer stint on the second-tier Epson Tour in the United States. In her second tournament back after a tie for eighth at the Open de France, she landed a second LET victory, five years after her first in Morocco in April 2017.
“I have been on tour for 12 years and I knew I could make it, that I could win another one, because I have been playing really well recently and I have been up there every week. I just had to trust in it, to win, it doesn’t really happen every day or every week. You have to enjoy it.” Particularly following a remarkable par at the par-three 17th that saw Spilkova wade into the water to play her second shot to inside three feet of the hole.
“That was definitely the best up and down of my whole life, to be honest,” she said. “It feels great, I feel like coming home, being able to play on LET again because I haven’t been playing here much, so it just feels really nice.
“And a lot of Irish fans came out to watch, which I really appreciated, a really big thing for people from here. There was a great vibe and the fans were amazing.”