Sun. May 19th, 2024
Ashleigh Buhai

Twenty years ago, Ashleigh Buhai’s childhood hero, Ernie Els, won the British Open at Muirfield. That victory came not long after Buhai met Els for the first time at the 1998 South African Open. She bought the life-sized poster she kept in her bedroom there for him to sign.

South Africa legend Gary Player, who won the British Open at Muirfield in 1959, left her a message on Saturday morning.

Now Buhai, a 33-year-old who joined the LPGA in 2008, has the chance to follow in their footsteps at the historic club, where she has a five-stroke lead heading into the final round of the AIG Women’s British Open.

“Obviously I’m very pleased,” said Buhai, who shot 64 with a bogey on the last hole to finish at 14 under for the championship.

“To be able to I think shoot that score in those conditions, you have to be able to pat yourself on the back; so much so that I thought I was 6 under, not seven, so I was 8 under playing the last, which I think I have to look back is probably one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever played.”

Buhai has 12 career top 10s on the LPGA, no victories and is currently ranked 84th in the world. She found herself in three divots on a windy Saturday in Gullane and never missed a beat. When she missed her first green on the back nine on the par-5 17th, Buhai chipped in for birdie.

“I was feeling pretty calm,” she said. “I’ve done good work on my swing with my coach for so long now, and I feel my lines are where they need to be and I just need to keep my tempo. If I keep my tempo, then most of the time it tends to fall. The club tends to fall where it needs to fall.”

Still, Buhai knows that if she has posted such low scores in trying conditions, that means someone else can, too.

American Sherri Steinhauer came from four strokes back to win this championship in 1998, as did Se Ri Pak in 2001, the largest comebacks since records were kept.

The largest comeback in overall LPGA major championship history is seven strokes, and it’s happened on three occasions: Patty Sheehan, 1983 KPMG Women’s PGA; Karrie Webb, 2006 Chevron; and Minjee Lee, 2021 Amundi Evian.

In Gee Chun looks to win her fourth different major title on Sunday. The 2022 KPMG Women’s PGA champion sits in a share of second, five strokes back after a 1-under 70 on Day three. Three of Chun’s four LPGA titles are majors, and she’s currently ranked 11th in the world. Her previous best finish at this event was a tie for seventh in 2020 at Royal Troon.

“It was not easy and it was a bit windy out there,” said Chun, who used a lot of self-talk on the greens. “I think my game was like really good today.”

Hinako Shibuno won the AIG Women’s British Open at Woburn in her first LPGA start and looked like a cool customer on the parkland course. It took some adjustment for Shibuno to learn how to play on links-style courses, and her goal this week was to become friends with the wind.

Shibuno’s 5-under 66 on Saturday puts her five shots back of Buhai and in position to smile her way to the finish at Muirfield.

“I’m having fun from the bottom of my heart,” said the decorated rookie.