Ashleigh Buhai leads by five – photo R&A via Getty Images
Australians Stephanie Kyriacou and Minjee Lee may be just four shots out of second place at the AIG Women’s Open Championship at Muirfield, but the problem they and the rest of the elite field face is that the leader, Ashleigh Buhai has opened up a five shot lead over second placed Hinako Shibuno and In Gee Chun, and if they have any hopes a contending for the title in tomorrow’s final round they will need a likely record breaking final round a lot of help from Buhai.
After a relatively slow start on Thursday, South Africa’s Buhai added best of the day rounds of 65 on Friday and a 64 today to storm into a five shot lead and it appears a first major title for the former childhood prodigy is now hers to win or lose.
Formerly Ashleigh Simon, the now 33-year-old, was the youngest ever person to win the South African Women’s Open at the age of 14 and turned professional at 18 but while her 15 years in the professional ranks have been rewarding enough they have perhaps not met the hype surrounding her amateur career.
Tomorrow, she has the chance to change all of that by winning one of female golf’s major titles as her first LPGA Tour success and given that she has recorded only one top ten in more then forty starts in major championships, Sunday is looming as the greatest day in Buhai’s golfing life.
Such anticipation of course only adds pressure to the task at hand but the manner in which she has played her last 36 holes suggests she is up to the task but how she handles the expectation will be fascinating to watch.
Sydney’s Kyriacou is an LPGA Tour rookie in 2022 and while she has recorded just one top ten to date, she is a proven winner while playing the Ladies European Tour. Today, Kyriacou birdied three of her first five holes and at that point was breathing down the neck of the leaders.
She would though drop shots at the 7th, 8th and 14th holes before a birdie at the 17th saw her finish with a round of 70 and tied in 6th place with Minjee Lee.
“Well, I started pretty good actually,” said Kyriacou. “I was like 3-under through five and I made a couple soft bogeys which kind of killed the momentum.
“But I mean, I didn’t make too many mistakes, and the back nine I find harder. So I just didn’t give myself many close chances and had to scramble a bit more and just made a birdie on 17 and 1-under, pretty basic golf. Nothing too interesting.
“I will definitely be more aggressive (tomorrow). I’m a few shots back. I mean, it’s not impossible but it’s going to be harder. I think the only way to win is to be aggressive. You don’t come here to come second place.”
Lee also recorded a round of 70 and like Kyriacou she began well with two early birdies but her final nine was played in 1 over par and she has a big task tomorrow if she is to add this title to the US equivalent won a few weeks ago.
“I started off pretty good,” said Lee. “I had two birdies on the front nine, and then were a few too many bunkers. Made a few bogeys coming in, but had two birdies on the back as well, so finished 1-under.
“It was really windy out there, so I feel like I probably could have had a little bit — a little lower score but considering where I hit it, I think I’m happy with where I’m at.
“Yeah, I think I’m going to have to shoot a really low score (tomorrow) and hope for her (Ash) to come back a little bit. Yeah, that’s pretty much what I want to do, just play my game and try to make as many birdies as I can.”
Hannah Green began round three as the leading Australian but after bogeys at her opening two holes, she would eventually record a 3 over 74 and at 2 under, she tied with Lydia Ko and others in 19th place.