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Olivia ready for historic bid to clinch Augusta joy

 

In mix: Olivia Mehaffey will showcase her talent at Augusta
In mix: Olivia Mehaffey will showcase her talent at Augusta

By Paul Kelly

With yesterday's practice round in the bag, Olivia Mehaffey will take to the lush fairways at Augusta National today for the final round of the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur.

Ireland's leading female amateur is tied for 11th, six shots behind the leader and world's top-ranked amateur Jennifer Kupcho, after the opening two rounds which were held at the Champions Retreat club.

Sitting in a five-way tie for 21st after day one, Olivia rose to the occasion and recovered after some early struggles to post an even-par 72 which sets her up perfectly for a closing round charge at Augusta, the venue for next week's opening men's Major of the year, the Masters.

The 21-year-old from Banbridge is a leading light on the golf team at Arizona State University where she has blossomed into a world-class competitor.

Now in her third year at the college, Olivia sealed her second individual title back in February at the Bruin Wave Invitational, posting rounds of 76, 71 and 73 to win by a shot.

She is a two-time Curtis Cup player and was part of the 2016 winning GB&I team that saw off the US in Dun Laoighaire.

In what has been an historic event for women's golf, Olivia has also clocked up a couple of notable firsts herself this week. Among the first women to play a competitive round at Augusta, she was part of the opening three-ball alongside Kupcho and Atthaya Thitikul and she also recorded the first birdie.

There's plenty on the line for the 30 players who made it through to play today. The winner will get an invitation to the next five Augusta National Women's Amateurs, the 2019 US Women's Open and the 2019 Women's British Open.

Currently ranked 19th in the world, Olivia will be in action in Northern Ireland later this year at the 116th Women's Amateur Championship at her home course, Royal County Down (June 11-15).

Meanwhile, England's Patience Rhodes grabbed the round one lead at the Irish Girls' Open Stroke Play Championship at Roganstown GC. The tournament, contested over 54 holes, has attracted a field of 111 international players to compete for the title which a certain Mehaffey won three times in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

The 15-year-old Rhodes, from Bernham and Berrow GC, carded three birdies in her two-under par round of 69 to finish one shot clear of Germany's Maline Kraus.

"On 17 I hit it past the pin and holed a 15-footer back down the hill which was a nice confidence booster," said Rhodes.

"I hit most fairways and greens all day and putted well. I had a six-foot putt for birdie on 18 which was a tricky left to right one, but I managed to hole it."

Of 34 Irish players in the field, Leah Temple Lang (Elm Park) is best positioned following her level-par round.

She said: "I feel like I left a few out there, my pace putting wasn't great but it's my best round here to date and the tournament is not over yet, I'll do some practice in the morning and make sure I get them all to the hole tomorrow."

Kirkistown Castle's Beth Coulter is the leading Ulster competitor in a tie for 36th on five over.

The field will be cut to the top 50 and ties following today's second round, with the 2019 champion crowned tomorrow.

• Graeme McDowell kept alive hopes of a last-gasp Masters spot as his second straight three-under-par 69 kept him in contention at the Texas Open.

McDowell, who won in the Dominican Republic last weekend, was two off the clubhouse pace.

Jordan Spieth and fellow US players Harold Varner III, Adam Schenk were leading with Canadian Corey Conners and South Korea's Kyoung-Hoon Lee.

The winner will secure the last Masters spot if they haven't already qualified.

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