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

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Inby Park didn’t hesitate to praise AIG Women’s Open leader Ashley Buhai who took control of this historic championship on Saturday playing alongside Park. The 33-year-old leads with five shots in Sunday’s final round at Muirfield.

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

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That same year, Park shot 7 fewer shots on the last day, trailing top runner-up Jin Yong Ko with three shots. This was the round in which Park compared the one that Buhai posted on Saturday.

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Buhai – a South African who owns only one top ten (fifth at the 2019 Women’s Open) as well as 20 misses in 42 previous big starts – scored 7 under 64. 4 18th hole. Prior to this, Buhai had hit eight birdies in windy Scottish conditions (wind speed around 20 mph, gusts around 30), including five on her first seven holes and a par-5 17

“To be able to score that kind of score in those conditions, you have to be able to pat yourself on the back,” Buhai said. “… It was probably one of the best rounds of golf I have ever played.”

No kidding.

“I wish I could play the golf course she played today,” joked Madeleine Sagstrom, seven shots behind. “No, a phenomenal round of golf. I (could not) see 7 there today. Great job for her and I think the rest of us are just hoping to find that peak momentum.”

Park added, “She played perfectly today. I don’t remember her making any mistakes today, and even if she did, she ended up with a bird like 17. That’s the round you need to be a champion.”

Full AIG Women’s Open results

Park, however, was not entirely willing to give up for her and her fellow competitors. Hinako Shibuno and In Ji Chun, with four big wins between them, are tied for second with 9 do, while Park, a seven-time world champion, is tied for fourth with Sagstrom with 7 do.

It’s a great experience to win while chasing a player who has only finished in the top 25 five times in 42 big games. (Buhai has three LET wins, but none in the LPGA.)

“She has a huge advantage, but, as I said, on this golf course, when the wind is blowing into the back nine like this (the forecast for Sunday is promising the same wind), you just don’t know what will happen,” Park said. “And it’s very easy to lose three or four shots there. So yes, just never give up and just try to take advantage of some opportunities. You just need to play some good golf like Ashley did today.

Buhai also downplayed her significant cushion – even if since the Women’s Open in 2001 took over, no player has conceded a 54-hole lead from four or more shots. Six-shot leaders Lauren Ochoa (2007) and In-Kyung Kim (2017) won by four and two shots, respectively; Jeong Chan (2005) turned a five-shot lead into a four-shot win; and Jani Tseng (2010) held on to win by one after leading four.

“I don’t think you can ever feel comfortable in a major, whether you’re coming from behind or leading,” Buhai said. “It’s going to be another tough day. The wind will blow, that’s good. I prefer it this way. But they say big moves are often more difficult, and I think because you might be trying to play defensively. But I think I will continue to do what I do and stick to these steps.”

If Buhai does what she did on Saturday, no one will catch her.


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