8 August 2022 – Ashleigh Buhai is a Major champion! The South African No 1 made par on the fourth play-off hole late on Sunday to win the AIG Women’s Open Championship at Muirfield and become just the second South African woman to win a major.
And it was fitting that it took a sublime bunker shot on that fourth extra hole to win her the title, given that two other South Africans have won majors at Muirfield – both amongst the greatest bunker players of their generations. Buhai joins Gary Player and Ernie Els as winners of major championships at Muirfield.
Buhai would have thought the sweetness of her triumph was put of reach after her five-stroke lead going into the final round was squandered after she made triple-bogey seven on the 15th coming down the stretch. Before her poor tee-shot, she held a three-shot lead and should have been cantering home.
The South African endured a terrible time of things at the 15th. After finding a bunker from the tee, she then mishit her next shot into thick rough when trying to play out safely, before failing to make clean contact with her third.
The end result was a triple-bogey seven that left her level with Chun at 10-under and also brought Hinako Shibuno – Buhai’s playing partner in the final group – back into the equation.
Chun came agonisingly close to converting a long-range birdie putt at 16, while she and Buhai both missed excellent chances on 17.
After the Korean had parred the last and signed for a one-under 70 to post 274, Buhai raced a lengthy putt for victory five feet past the hole, but then held her nerve superbly to convert the return and force a play-off, with Shibuno (71) finishing just one behind on nine-under.
Thirty-two years on from this championship’s last play-off, the remarkable conclusion left spectators gripped as Buhai and Chun, who had both finished on 10-under-par, matched each other shot for shot over three extra trips down the 18th.
Both players hit immaculate tee shots at every time of asking in the first three holes of the play-off. It was Chun who faltered first. The end finally came – in fading light at 9:10pm local time – as Chun made bogey after driving right into a fairway bunker and Buhai got up and down superbly from a greenside trap to clinch victory with a par.
Sally Little won the LPGA Championship in 1980, and the Du Maurier Championship in 1988. Thirty-four years later, Buhai became the second South African woman on a very short list. “I’ve got no words,” said Buhai. “It’s life-changing.”
Written by Mike Green | SA Tour Golf