Aditi Ashok produces career best 63, Leona Maguire wins Drive On Championship

A nine-under 63 helped Aditi Ashok make an emphatic finish to the LPGA Drive On Championship. Leona Maguire won by three over Lexi Thompson

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Aditi Ashok - LPGA - Getty Images

06 February 2022: It’s one of the most repeated quotes in golf, attributed to Bobby Jones, but it could have come from any of the game’s greats. “A good putter is a match for any man.” Aditi Ashok produced a putting masterclass to shoot a 63, forcing her way to T15. It was Aditi’s second straight top twenty finish at the start of a promising LPGA season. Leona Maguire secured her maiden victory on the LPGA with a steady 67 in the third round.

Man, woman or child, the point is, putting masks a lot of mistakes. As Paul Azinger has told me more often than I can count, “If you can drive it great, wedge it great, and putt it great, you’ll have a Hall of Fame career.” Butch Harmon told me something similar, although in much more Harmonesque language. “The secret of golf is simple,” Butch said. “Don’t hit it out of bounds and putt like a madman.”

Which brings us to Saturday’s final round at the Drive On Championship where, moments after the final group teed off on the first hole, India’s Aditi Ashok rolled in a three-footer on the final green at Crown Colony Golf & Country Cub to shoot a career-low 63. With it, Ashok vaulted up the leaderboard from making the cut on the number to finishing inside the top 15.

It was all because of one club: the putter.

“I was putting really good,” Ashok said. “I made almost everything. Every chance I got, I made the putt, which was great.”

She finished the day with 23 putts. To put that into perspective, Inbee Park, one of the greatest putters in history, man or woman, led the LPGA Tour in putting last year. Her average was 28.71 putts per round. Lydia Ko, the putter every golfer wants to be, averaged 28.79 putts last year and was first on Tour in putts per green hit in regulation.

This week two years ago, Ko was ranked 46th in the Rolex Rankings. Today, she is no.3 in the world.

“Putting takes a lot of pressure off the rest of your game,” Ben Crenshaw told me some years back. It allows you to hit the occasional sweeping hook, as Ben did more than once.

“I wasn’t hitting it as good as I wanted to,” Ashok said on Saturday. “I feel like I was not in control most of the time, so I was holing like 10-, 20-footers. Still, the putting worked, so it was a good day.”

Those are not words you hear often when a player posts 9-under par for a round. But it goes to show you the power of a hot putter.

“I think I was kind of playing with a draw. Well, I was calling it a hook, but my dad was being nice. He was calling it a draw,” Ashok said. “I was turning the ball right-to-left a lot. After a couple holes I was just like, ‘I have to play with it today.’ I think it worked well.”

She made some long ones, a couple of 25-footers and at least one on 17 that was 30 feet.

“That’s not usual for me,” she said. “Those you’re just trying to make a two-putt.”

It’s not often that you think you left some out there when you post a career low, but Ashok also said, “I still missed three putts which were 10 to 15 feet. When I think about that, if I just look at my percentage, 10 to 15 feet, I guess it’s obviously great, but I still missed three of them where they were kind of similar putts that I had the whole day.

“I’m greedy, so I feel like I should have made those three. But it was still a good putting day for me.

“I feel like the last few years, every time I’ve had a hot start, I haven’t really kept it going. I’ve kind of tried to guard the score. So, I was just telling myself to not think about the score and just birdie every hole I can. I was trying to birdie every hole. I think the aggressive mindset is what did it for me.”

She also hit 14 greens in regulation, a good but not extraordinary number, which, once again proves that a magic putter is worth its weight in gold.

“I think hitting the greens is what does it for me, because I’ve always been a good putter,” Ashok said. “It’s just when you’re putting for par, it’s hard to make a score. So, I I’ve been working a lot on hitting greens. I did that last week at Gainbridge and today, obviously.

“I think that’s a key for me going into this year.”

A 63 is also a big confidence boost for a player still looking to find her place on the LPGA Tour.

“Obviously, I know I have it in me,” she said. “I finished 10-under over three days. Nine of those birdies were on one day, so I know I have the good scores in me. It’s just about putting three or four good rounds together.

“I’m playing with the best girls in the world so it’s hard every week. If I can do my best, I think it’s good enough out here.

“I spent like four or five years thinking that my game wasn’t as good. I think a few years ago I wouldn’t even think that a 63 was possible. I think that belief in myself that I can shoot low numbers on this tour is what is taking me forward.”

Belief and a solid putter: together they can take you a long way in this game.

 

Leona Maguire secures maiden LPGA victory

Leona Maguire - LPGA - Drive On Championship
Leona Maguire – LPGA – Drive On Championship

On the day before her mother’s birthday, Leona Maguire decided to gift her with the performance of a lifetime at the LPGA Drive On Championship. After a final-round 67, Maguire cruised into the winner’s circle for the first time in her LPGA Tour career, becoming the first woman from Ireland to win in the Tour’s history. Her 198 ties her career-best 54-hole score, last recorded at the 2021 Pelican Women’s Championship.

“Hasn’t really sunk in yet. It’s a bit surreal. It’s been a long time coming and I suppose you don’t know it’s going to happen until it actually does,” said Maguire. “Tried to just stay really patient today. Didn’t get ahead of myself. Wanted to go out and just shoot a number. Didn’t want anybody to have to hand it to me. I wanted to go out and win it myself and earn it. Yeah, just really proud of the way I played today.”

Heading into the final day tied for the lead with Marina Alex, Maguire said she didn’t look at leaderboards until the fairway on No. 18 and didn’t know how the results were beginning to net out. After carding her first birdie on No. 2, Maguire picked up speed after a bogey on No. 3 with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 7 and 8 and closed with a 33 on her back-nine holes.

“I think the birdie on 7 was huge. Brittany [Altomare] had gone on that run early, and as I expected, I knew someone was going to go low today. I was just trying to keep up with her and Marina early on.

That birdie on 7 and 8 as well out of the pine straw was huge for momentum making the turn, and then another two on 10 and 11. I thought the shot on 11 was in,” said Maguire. “But, yeah, just some really solid iron shots to set up those chances.”

Finishing in solo second was 11-time LPGA Tour winner Lexi Thompson. Playing in the penultimate grouping five strokes back of the lead, Thompson played her first seven holes 7-under, which included an eagle on No. 10. Finishing with a birdie on No. 18 after a bogey on 16, Thompson posted a final-round 65 and at -15 overall.

“I think it’s all about just putting myself in contention. I’ve put in the work in the off-season, hours on the putting green, hours in the gym, and just working on myself and improvement. There’s all I want to see. As athletes we just continue to try to improve on our games and ourselves, and that’s what I see. We just want to see the hard work pay off,” said Thompson, who last won at the 2019 ShopRite LPGA Classic. “Just going to continue to work hard and stay in the moment and put myself in contention and hopefully a win will come.”

Sarah Schmelzel made six birdies in her final seven holes to jump up the leaderboard into third at -14, her career-best finish on the LPGA Tour. Five players tied for fourth at -13, including Brittany Altomare, who got off to a hot start thanks to five-straight birdies on Nos. 2-6.

“I kind of literally could not have asked for a better start to my day. I was hitting the ball well and was seeing the putts really well. They were falling, which is nice. But ultimately, I just made too many mistakes coming in,” said Altomare, who posted a Saturday 68. “I felt like I like made a lot of birdies but I couldn’t eliminate some mistakes. I think that was kind of the deal.”

LPGA Tour rookie Pauline Roussin-Bouchard and major champion Jeongeun Lee6 rounded out the top 10 in a tie for ninth at -12. Nelly Korda’s 8-under 64 moved her into a tie for 15th (-10) after starting the day at T45. Xiyu Lin and Aditi Ashok carded the lowest rounds of the week with a pair of 63s, both new career-low 18-hole scores.