Ashleigh Buhai has spent 12 years working for that first victory — 221 starts later, in the twilight hours at famed Muirfield — she outlasted three-time major champion In Gee Chun and won the 2022 Women’s Open Championship.
The 33-year-old South African took a whopping five-shot lead into Sunday’s final round.
In Gee Chun cut into that lead with three birdies over her first six holes. Buhai kept grinding away. She was one-over for her round at the turn but still in good shape with the three-shot lead over Chun.
After starting the home stretch on the inward nine with five straight pars, Buhai looked solid.
Then came the 15th and a proverbial train wreck for the South African. Her drive found one of the penal fairway pots. Add a poor lie in the bunker and she hit out sideways into the long fescue. She didn’t advance it far she finally found the fairway with her fourth shot but was 212 yards out. By the time she walked off the green, she put a triple-bogey seven on her card and was tied with Chun at 10-under.
Chun posted with a closing 71 and waited for Buhai.
Buhai had a golden opportunity to get it to 11-under but missed a six-foot birdie putt at the 17th. A par at 18 sent Chun and Buhai into a sudden-death playoff.
They went down the 18th four times and it was on that fourth trip where Chun blinked, hit a wayward tee shot and found a pot bunker. She hit out sideways and her third was on the back fringe, a good 14 feet from the hole.
Buhai’s drive left her in great shape — center-cut, 169 yards in. With the sun setting, something needed to happen but Buhai’s second found the bunker short right of the green, leaving her a long third from the sand.
“Show them why you’re No. 1 in bunkers this year,” her caddie Tanya Paterson said as Buhai prepared for the crucial attempt. She hit a gem that stopped just two feet from the cup. When Chun’s par putt missed, Buhai tapped in to make history.
She joined a list of Muirfield champions that includes Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Walter Hagen, Harry Vardon and Phil Mickelson.
“For me to be a female South African and a major winner,” said Buhai. “I’ve got no words, it’s life-changing.”