Career day, big lead little comfort as Ashleigh Buhai eyes first major at Muirfield

Career day, big lead little comfort as Ashleigh Buhai eyes first major at Muirfield
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Inbee Park wasn’t shy in delivering praise for AIG Women’s Open leader Ashleigh Buhai, who grabbed control of this historic championship Saturday while playing alongside Park and leads the field by five shots entering Sunday’s final round at Muirfield.

“She was flawless,” said Park, who knows what it takes to win a major on links; she did so at Turnberry in 2015.

That year, Park shot 7 under on the final day to best runner-up Jin Young Ko by three shots. It was a round in which Park likened to the one Buhai posted on Saturday.

Buhai, the 33-year-old South African who owned just one top-10 (a solo fifth at the 2019 Women’s Open) to go along with 20 missed cuts in 42 previous major starts, fired a 7-under 64 that was capped by a bogey at the par-4 18th hole. Before that, Buhai carded eight birdies in windy Scottish conditions (winds near 20 mph, gusts close to 30), including five in her first seven holes and a chip-in at the par-5 17th.

“To be able to shoot that score in those conditions, you have to be able to pat yourself on the back,” Buhai said. “… Probably one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever played.”

No kidding.

“I wish I would have played the golf course she played today,” quipped Madelene Sagstrom, who is seven shots back. “No, phenomenal golf round. I good not see a 7 under out there today. Great job to her, and I think the rest of us are just hoping to find that momentum top.”

Added Park: “She played perfect today. I don’t remember her making any mistakes today, and even if she did, she ended up having a birdie like 17. That’s kind of round that you need to be a champion.”

Full-field scores from the AIG Women’s Open

Park, however, wasn’t quite willing to throw in the towel for her and her fellow competitors – Hinako Shibuno and In Gee Chun, with four major wins between them, are tied for second at 9 under while Park, a seven-time major champ, shares fourth with Sagstrom at 7 under.

That’s a lot of winning major experience chasing a player with just five top-25s in 42 major appearances. (Buhai also owns three LET wins but none on the LPGA.)

“She has a huge lead, but like I said, this golf course with the wind blowing on the back nine like this (Sunday’s forecast calls for similar wind), you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Park said. “And losing three or four shots is just really easy out there. So yeah, just never give up, and just try to make some opportunities. Just got to play some good golf just like Ashleigh today.”

Buhai downplayed her sizable cushion as well.

“I don’t think you can ever be comfortable in a major whether you’re coming from behind or leading,” Buhai said. “It’s going to be another tough day. The wind is going to blow, which is good. I prefer it that way. But they say big leads are often more difficult, and I think because you try to maybe play defensively. But I think I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and sticking to those steps.”

If Buhai does what she did Saturday, no one’s catching her.

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