Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa persevered through four playoff holes and made a crucial sand save her fourth time through 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 forge a 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 past 9 p.m. local time. Chun’s drive found a bunker right of the fairway, forcing her to lay up and reach the back of the green in three shots and she wound up making bogey. Buhai’s second shot landed in a greenside bunker, but a terrific third shot left her a tap-in par.
The 33-year-old won not only her first career major title, but her first LPGA event of any kind. She has three career wins on the Ladies European Tour.
She joined Hall of Famer Sally Little as the only South African women to win a major tournament. Little won two majors.
“It’s a lot of hard work and many years of dedication going into this,” Buhai said at the trophy presentation. “I know there’s a lot of people in South Africa with lots of grey hairs right now. I’m very proud of myself the way I dug deep and kept myself in it to get into that playoff.”
Buhai was 1 over through 14 holes, but a tough triple-bogey 7 at 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 lengthy double-bogey putt short.
She also missed a birdie putt at No. 18 that would have won the event – 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 made bogey the second time and Buhai missed a birdie to win inches short on the third playoff hole. That led to the dramatic finish on the fourth, with Buhai expertly rescuing herself from the bunker.
“My caddy said to 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 featured three birdies on the front nine and bogeys at Nos. 10 and 12.
In third place was Japan’s Hinako Shibuno, who turned in a colourful card with one eagle, three birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey adding up to an even-par 71. She was 9 under for the event, one stroke out of 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 at a major – a tie for fourth with Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden (final-round 71) and world No. 2 Minjee Lee of Australia (69).
Brooke Henderson of Canada (70), Lydia Ko of New Zealand (68) and Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand (70) – ranked fourth, fifth and sixth in the world – finished the championship 5 under, in a tie for seventh along with Japan’s Nasa Hataoka (68), France’s Celine Boutier (67) and Australia’s Steph Kyriacou (71).