With 18 holes remaining at the 2022 AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield, South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai is threatening to run away with her first major title. The 33-year-old, making her 221st career LPGA Tour start, carded a 7-under 64 in Saturday’s third round to reach -14 overall and tie the major’s 54-hole scoring record at 199. She carries a five-stroke lead over Hinako Shibuno and In Gee Chun into Sunday’s final round, searching for the first victory of her LPGA Tour career.
“Obviously I'm very pleased. To be able to I think shoot that score in those conditions, you have to be able to pat yourself on the back,” said Buhai, whose 64 was Saturday’s lowest round by two strokes and a new career-best 18-hole score. “So much so that I thought I was 6-under, not 7, 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 seemingly could not make a mistake on Saturday, not remotely fazed by the winds whipping up to 35 mph around her. After a birdie at No. 2, she made four consecutive birdies at holes 4-7, making the turn at 5-under 31. She added birdies at 10 and 14, and chipped in from off the green at No. 17 to continue her streak of success.
“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,” said Buhai. “I thought I had a really good warmup. Hit a few extra chips today because I didn't feel I chipped too well yesterday, or at least it showed on 17 that that paid off.”
For the second consecutive day, Buhai did leave the course with a slightly sour taste in her mouth. A closing bogey at No. 18 was the only blemish on an otherwise remarkable scorecard. Even seven-time major champion Inbee Park, who played alongside Buhai on Saturday, was amazed by the skill and patience she demonstrated.
“She played perfect today,” Park said of Buhai. “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.”
Buhai is looking to follow in the footsteps of Sally Little (1980 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, 1988 du Maurier Classic) as an LPGA Tour major champion from South Africa. Seven men have won major titles, including Gary Player and Ernie Els, who won at Muirfield in 1959 and 2002, respectively. Els, Buhai’s childhood idol, was the 54-hole leader in his 41st major start when he won in 2002, while Buhai is in her 43rd major start and sits at the head of the field with one round to go.
“I don't think you can ever be comfortable in a major whether you're coming from behind or leading. It's going to be another tough day. The wind is going to blow, which is good. I prefer it that way,” said Buhai, who will sleep on the first 54-hole lead of her LPGA Tour career. “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.”
Shibuno will join Buhai in Sunday’s final group, a rematch of the 2019 AIG Women’s Open that saw Shibuno earn her first major title. The Japanese superstar, who led through 18 holes at Muirfield before stumbling to a 2-over 73 on Friday, had six birdies and one bogey on Saturday.
Chun started the day with a one-stroke lead over Buhai and Madelene Sagstrom, but just could not keep up with the fireworks coming from Buhai one group ahead of her. Chun carded three birdies and two bogeys for a 1-under 70 on Saturday. If Chun could make the five-stroke comeback on Sunday, she would become the eighth player in LPGA Tour history to earn the Career Grand Slam, winning four different majors available in her career.
Seven-time major champion Inbee Park and Sagstrom are tied for fourth at -7. Japan’s Miyu Yamashita joins Australian countrywomen Minjee Lee and Stephanie Kyriacou in a tie for sixth at -5. Lee needs to pull into second to have a chance to reach No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.