South African Ashleigh Buhai took control of the British Women’s Open on Saturday with an impressive third-round 64 at Muirfield to leave her dreaming of emulating childhood hero Ernie Els.
At 14 under par, Buhai led by five shots from midfield leader Chun In-gee (70) and Japan’s Hinako Shibuno (66). Park In-bee and Madelene Sagstrom tied for fourth on seven under.
Buhai, 33, has never reached the same heights as a professional as she has as a teenage phenom.
Known then as Ashleigh Simon, she won the first of three South African Amateur Championships at the age of 14.
She has won the European Women’s Tour three times and won two South African Women’s Tournaments, but is still awaiting the breakthrough on the LPGA Tour.
A behind Chun midway through rounds of 70 and 65, she was in inspired form in the brutally cool and windy conditions.
She had eight birdies and, for the second day in a row, her only lost shot came on the 18th.
“I think this is my best run,” a delighted Buhai said.
“I think tomorrow will be another tough day, but hopefully there will be enough of a lead.
“But, in these conditions, anything can happen, but I love links golf. It’s always been my favorite tournament of the year. I played really well all day. Hit close and the chip for a birdie at 17 was a bonus.
– ‘I love Ernie’ –
“My worst shot was the five second wood at 18 which led to a bogey. But I’ll take it.”
Els won the 2002 Open at Muirfield, and it would be a dream come true for Buhai to follow in his footsteps.
“I love Ernie,” she said. “He was the player I looked up to when I was young and it occurred to me that winning here would be even more special. Now we both live in Florida which is fun.”
Shibuno was leading after a first-round 65 and is looking forward to playing with Buhai in the final round.
“I can keep an eye on what she’s doing. I want to win again,” said the player who won the title at Woburn in 2019 when Buhai finished fifth.
Chun never quite found the vital spark, but three birdies kept her in the hunt for a second major of the season next to the PGA Women’s Championship.
Park played with Buhai and the seven-time major champion was very impressed. But the Korean has not given up hope of a second British Open.
“The weather was even worse when I won at Turnberry (in 2015) and shot seven cents in the last lap,” she recalled. “I will need another round like that tomorrow.
“Ashleigh has a huge lead and played exceptionally today, but anything can happen. Three or four shots can get away in a few holes.”
American Rose Zhang was the only amateur to survive the cut and the Cutis Cup star shot an impressive 70 to hold on to one under par.
The 19-year-old is expected to win the amateur prize, the Smyth Salver.