South African Ashleigh Buhai took a firm hold on the Women’s British Open on Saturday with an impressive third round 64 in Muirfield, making her dream of rivaling childhood hero Ernie Els.
At 14 under par, Buhai led by five shots from halfway through leader Chun In-gee (70) and Japan’s Hinako Shibuno (66). Park In-bee and Madelene Sagstrom tied for fourth on seven under.
33-year-old Buhai has never been higher as a professional than as a teenage phenomenon.
Then known as Ashleigh Simon, she won the first of three South African amateur championships at the age of 14.
She has won three times on the Ladies’ European Tour and has two South African Women’s Opens, but is still waiting for her breakthrough on the LPGA Tour.
One behind Chun halfway through after rounds of 70 and 65, she was in inspired shape in the brutally cool and windy conditions.
She made eight birdies and for the second day in a row, her only drop shot came on the 18th.
“I think it’s my best lap ever,” said the delighted Buhai.
“I think tomorrow will be another tough day, but hopefully the lead will be good enough.
“But anything can happen under these circumstances, but I love left golf. This has always been my favorite tournament of the year. I played great all day. It was close and the chip-in for birdie on 17 was a bonus.”
– ‘I love Ernie’ –
“My worst shot was the five wood seconds out of 18 that led to a bogey. But I’m going for it.”
Els won the 2002 Open at Muirfield and it would be a dream come true for Buhai to follow in his footsteps.
“I love Ernie,” she said. “He was the player I looked up to when I was young and it had occurred to me that it would be extra special to win here. Now we both live in Florida, which is nice.”
Shibuno led 65 after a first round and is delighted with the prospect of playing with Buhai in the final round.
“I can keep an eye on what she does. I want to win again,” said the player who took the title at Woburn in 2019 when Buhai finished fifth.
Chun never found the vital spark, but three birdies kept her in the hunt for a second major of the season alongside the Women’s PGA Championship.
Park played with Buhai and the seven-time champion was deeply impressed. But the Korean has not given up hope of a second British Open.
“The weather was even worse when I won at Turnberry (in 2015) and undershot seven on the last lap,” she recalls. “I need another round like that tomorrow.
“Ashleigh has a huge lead and played exceptionally today, but anything can happen. Three or four shots can slip in a few holes.”
American Rose Zhang was the only amateur to survive the cut and the Cutis Cup star shot an impressive 70 to be one under par.
The 19-year-old will receive the amateur award, the Smyth Salver.