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Olivia Mehaffey on course to reach final round in historic Augusta Women's Championship

 

Driven: Olivia Mehaffey is impressing at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship
Driven: Olivia Mehaffey is impressing at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship

By Phil Casey

Olivia Mehaffey is five shots off the lead after shooting a one over par 73 in the opening round of the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur Championship.

The Royal County Down golfer is currently tied for 22nd and remains on course to feature in the final round.

The first two rounds of the tournament are taking place at the Champions Retreat Club, after which the top 30 will progress to the final round at Augusta National.

The event will conclude at the famous course just a week before the Masters.

Mehaffey, who is on a scholarship at Arizona State University, birdied the third and the eighth but finished the front nine on level par after bogeying five and nine.

Despite a final bogey on the 13th, the 21-year-old remains firmly in contention and will hope that a strong round today could see her make the top 30.

All 72 competitors will play a practice round at Augusta National before the top 30 go on to the final round at the major championship venue.

Americans Jennifer Kupcho and Zoe Campos share the clubhouse lead on four under.

And Curtis Cup player Paula Grant claimed the prestigious Royal County Down Scratch Salver for the second time to move to the top of the ILGU Scratch Cup Order of Merit.

The Lisburn star fired rounds of 73 and 70 at the Newcastle links in the 25th-anniversary staging of the event to finish nine strokes ahead of defending champion Deirdre Smith from County Louth on nine-under-par.

Grant joins Kirkistown Castle's Beth Coulter and Woodstock's Aine Donegan on the winner's enclosure on the Scratch Cup circuit this year and heads the Order of Merit.

Five events remain, starting with Sunday's 36-hole Woodbrook Ladies' Scratch Cup where Malone's Louise Coffey pipped Smith and Lucan's Molly Dowling on the second 18 to secure the title last year.

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell is among the players looking to follow in the footsteps of Ian Poulter and secure a last-minute invite to the Masters at the Valero Texas Open.

The final place in the year's first major at Augusta National will go to the winner of this week's event at TPC San Antonio, however, if the winner has already qualified, the Masters field will remain at 86, the smallest since Tiger Woods registered his maiden major victory in 1997.

McDowell (above) arrives in Texas on the back of a first win since 2015 in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship, but that did not earn a Masters invite as it was an opposite-field event played in the same week as the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Last year Poulter was incorrectly told that reaching the quarter-finals of the Match Play was enough to get into the Masters via the world rankings, but after losing to Kevin Kisner in Austin the Ryder Cup star took matters into his own hands by winning the Houston Open in a play-off.

Seventeen players in the field in Texas are set to compete at Augusta, but Ernie Els, Lucas Glover and Padraig Harrington are chasing a place along with former World No.1 Luke Donald.

Rickie Fowler has no such worries as he qualifies for the Masters in several categories, including via his runners-up finish to Patrick Reed last year, and believes playing the week before a major is beneficial.

"Everyone's different," Fowler told a pre-tournament press conference. "Some guys are going to want to maybe make a trip up to Augusta in the weeks prior, stay home, practice, work with coaches, get ready that way.

"I like playing competitively if I can leading up to majors or some big weeks. So for me I played Houston in the past leading up to Augusta. I typically play the Scottish Open into the British.

"Sometimes into the US Open or the (US) PGA it can be different, it's a little tougher with the schedule, but when I can I definitely have seen it be beneficial to play the week before.

"You're not far coming off competition when you tee it up Thursday morning in a major and it just makes me feel more comfortable and more confident."

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