Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa persevered through four playoff holes and made a crucial fourth-time sand save to defeat South Korea’s In Gee Chun and win the AIG Women’s Open for her first career major on Sunday in Gullane, Scotland.
Buhai entered the final round at historic Muirfield with a five-stroke lead but squandered it with a 4-over-par 75. Chun’s 1-under 70 was enough to tie with Buhai at 10-under 274.
The pair played the par-4 18th hole on repeat until Buhai broke the tie on the fourth trip, just after 9pm local time. Chun’s drive found a bunker to the right of the fairway, forcing her to lay up and reach the back of the green in three shots, and she ended up making bogey. Buhai’s second shot landed in a greenside bunker, but a superb third shot earned her a tap-in par.
The 33-year-old not only won her first career major title, but also her first LPGA event of any kind. She has three career victories on the Ladies European Tour.
She joined Hall of Famer Sally Little as the only South African woman to win a major tournament. Little won two majors.
“It’s a lot of hard work and many years of dedication that go into this,” Buhai said at the trophy presentation. “I know there are a lot of people in South Africa with a lot of gray hairs right now. I’m very proud of myself how I dug deep and stuck with it to get into the playoffs.”
Buhai was 1 over through 14 holes, but a tough triple bogey 7 on No. 15 dropped her from 13 under to 10 under, tied with Chun. Buhai had trouble getting out of a fairway bunker on the hole and left a long double-bogey putt short.
She also missed a birdie putt on No. 18 that would have won the tournament – a sign of things to come. Neither Buhai nor Chun could find the decisive putt over the first three playoff holes.
Buhai missed a birdie putt to win on the first play-through, both bogeyed the second and Buhai missed a birdie to win inches short on the third playoff hole. That led to the dramatic finish in the fourth, with Buhai expertly saving himself from the bunker.
“My caddy told me on the last one, I don’t want to brag, but she said, ‘Show them why you’re No. 1 in bunkers this year,’” Buhai said.
Chun’s round of 70 included three birdies on the front nine and bogeys on Nos. 10 and 12.
In third place was Japan’s Hinako Shibuno, who turned in a colorful card with an eagle, three birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey for an even-par 71. She was 9 under for the event, one stroke outside the playoff.
Ireland’s Leona Maguire shot a 5-under 66 early in the day to move up to 7-under. It was enough for Maguire’s first top-five finish in a major — tied for fourth with Madelene Sagström of Sweden (final round 71) and world No. 2 Minjee Lee of Australia (69).
Canada’s Brooke Henderson (70), New Zealand’s Lydia Ko (68) and Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul (70) – ranked fourth, fifth and sixth in the world – finished the championship at 5 under, in a tie for seventh with Japan’s Nasa Hataoka (68) , France’s Celine Boutier (67) and Australia’s Steph Kyriacou (71).
–Field Level Media