What ranking. With this weekend’s wind forecast to blow in excess of 30 mph and the fairways and greens of Muirfield not getting any softer, AIG and the R&A could not have set the stage for a more dramatic AIG Women’s Open. ‘they had scripted the week in advance.
At one point on Friday, you had six players tied for the top of the standings, including LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park, fan favorite Jessica Korda, ‘Smiling Cinderella’ and AIG Women’s Open champion 2019 Hinako Shibuno, three-time major champion and winner of this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Gee Chun, Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom, who finished second at last year’s AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie, and Ashleigh Buhai.
Wait, you might say if you’re a casual fan of women’s football: Ashleigh Buhai? One of these things is not like the others. Please explain.
Of course, comes the answer. Ashleigh Buhai may not be a household name. But she is a player you need to know.
Buhai is 33 years old and has been on the LPGA Tour since 2008. Although she hasn’t won yet, she hasn’t run the risk of losing her card. And if you cruise around the back of a driving range on a round, his golf swing will have you stopping and watching. Smooth and rhythmic, Buhai has the kind of movement that fans point to and say, “If only I…”
She certainly had fans saying that and more on Friday at Muirfield. Seemingly unaware of the wind, Buhai made an early tear with four birdies and an eagle on her front nine holes to go out in 30, the best front-nine score of the first two days by a few strokes.
Her first setback came in the 12th minute where she missed her place with her approach by a few centimeters. At the best link courses, that’s all it takes. Rather than catching a ridge on the right side of the green and rolling to the hole, Buhai’s short iron caught the wrong side of a ridge and rolled into a greenside bunker. But, as if playing a friendly game on a Tuesday afternoon, she exploded 10 feet and rolled into the par putt as if it were a tap-in.
She took a break on 16 with a tee shot that could have ended up in trouble but found the rough instead. From there she hit the back of the green, rolled her birdie effort about eight feet long and once again poured the putt return down the center of the hole with a shot that appeared to have produced 14 wins. instead of 14 seasons. without one.
The only downfall of the day came at the end when an uncertain lie in the fairway with the magnitude of her situation hit her. A fragmented approach ended in a cross bunker. From there, she exploded long and got up to bogey to end the day with a 65, a headshot held by Chun and tied with Sagstrom at 7 under par.
“I remained very patient,” Buhai said. “Stuck with my steps and processes, which is my focus this week, get them right and hopefully the outcome will take care of itself. I’ve been doing pretty well the last few weeks. »
Born Ashleigh Simon in Johannesburg, South Africa (Ashleigh married longtime tour caddy David Buhai in 2016), she had a notable amateur career, winning four professional events before turning professional, including the Open d South Africa 2004 as a 14-year-old, an event she won again as an amateur in 2017. Since then, Ashleigh has finished second at the 2019 Cambia Portland Classic. Her best result at a major has been a fifth in solo at the 2019 AIG Women’s Open in Woburn where she led after the second round.
“Every time you’re in that position, you get a little more familiar with her,” she said after posting the championship low round on Friday. “Obviously Woburn is very different, parkland as opposed to links. But I love to play golf. It’s my favorite tournament of the year. I can’t wait to be there, and I love the golf and the creativity you must have.
Buhai has two top-10 finishes in 2022, including a fourth at the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii where there are no days when the wind doesn’t blow. His demanding and tireless nature should suit him well if conditions worsen over the weekend.
She also has a friend and mentor from whom she can draw experiences at Muirfield.
“I know Ernie (Els) won here (in 2002),” she said. “We were playing in our practice round, and I said to my caddy, ‘Let’s see how Ernie hit the shot.’ I was on YouTube while we were there, his famous bunker shot.
“I haven’t spoken to Ernie recently, but I now live full time in Florida and have been able to play with him a bit. He was my hero growing up. It’s pretty cool to be able to play the first two rounds well here and try to follow in his footsteps.