A near-perfect round at Muirfield, plus 2 other things to know from the AIG Women’s Open
Conditions were not so easy on Saturday at Muirfield, and it made for an exciting Moving Day. With gusts over 30 mph, every shot flirted with disaster, and it made for delicious viewing on one of the most penal tests in golf.
That’s not to say everyone struggled, though. There were birdie opportunities available, and for those at the top of the leaderboard, they took full advantage. For the two who earned spots in the final tee time on Sunday, 64 and 66 flashed on the scoreboard for Round 3.
Just 18 holes remain in the 2022 major championship season, but there’s still plenty of golf left to determine a champion.
Here are three things to know from Saturday at the AIG Women’s Open.
A near-perfect round
Ashleigh Buhai wasn’t quite perfect in Round 3 at Muirfield, but she was pretty darn close.
On a day when the Scottish winds gusted up to 35 mph, Buhai looked unfazed. She fired a seven-under 64 — the low round of the day by two shots — and opened up a five-shot lead over her nearest competitors at the 54-hole mark.
“Obviously I’m very pleased,” she said. “To be able to I think shoot that score in those conditions, you have to be able to pat yourself on the back.”
Buhai’s only mistake came at the par-4 finisher, where she carded her lone bogey of the day. She’d made eight birdies over her first 17 holes to that point — including four in a row from Nos. 4-7 to take the outright lead.
The South African’s 64 is her new career-best 18 hole score.
“I thought I was six-under, not seven,” Buhai said. “So I was eight under playing the last, which I think I have to look back is probably one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever played.”
Buhai, a 33-year-old who turned professional in 2007, has never won on the LPGA Tour, and has just one career top-five in major championships. With another solid round tomorrow, she has a chance to add to both of those totals.
“It’s going to be another tough day,” she said. “But I think I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and sticking to those steps.”
Major champs in chase
Buhai might have a five-shot lead heading into the final round, but that doesn’t mean her margin is comfortable — at least not with the names in pursuit.
Tied for second is a pair of major champs in In Gee Chun and Hinako Shibuno, the former who is fresh off a major victory earlier this summer at the KPMG Women’s PGA.
“Hopefully [the putts] will drop tomorrow,” said Chun, took 33 putts on Saturday after back-to-back rounds with just 26 putts. “Just know that I can’t control the weather and how other players play. Just try to keep focussed on my game. Just trying to do my best to stay in the present.”
Chun, who slept on the 36-hole lead, was not quite as sharp on Saturday as she posted one-under 70 to fall off the pace. Still though, she has an excellent opportunity to win her fourth major title come Sunday as she plays in the penultimate pairing.
Playing alongside Buhai in the final pairing will be Shibuno, who is looking for her second AIG Women’s Open title. She won in 2019 at Woburn Golf Club for her lone major victory.
“I’m having fun from the bottom of my heart,” said Shibuno, who fired a third-round 66. “Obviously I just want be friends with that wind.”
Her pairing with Buhai should bring back plenty of good vibes. During the final round of her 2019 triumph, Shibuno was paired with the South African as she shot a final-round 68 to take home the crown.
“If I can play tomorrow with her, I would be very happy about it,” Shibuno said. “But I want to win.”
No lead is safe
A five-shot lead might look good on paper, but if recent history is any indication, there could be plenty of fireworks in store on Sunday.
Every major winner thus far this season has slept on the 54-hole lead, but that doesn’t necessarily bode well for Buhai’s chances. Since 2001, there hasn’t been a season where all five majors were won by the 54-hole leader. Plus, over the past couple seasons, sleeping on the 54-hole lead hasn’t always been a good thing.
During Chun’s Women’s PGA title run earlier this summer, she saw a three-shot lead disappear on the final day before eventually pulling out the win. Last year saw even larger collapses as both Lexi Thompson (U.S. Women’s Open) and Jeongeun Lee6 (Evian) both squandered five-shot leads during the final round to miss out on major championship glory.
Buhai has got to like her chances heading into the final round, but the R&A might want to hold off on engraving the trophy prematurely. When a major title is on the line, anything can happen.