Ashleigh Buhai captures emotional first major win at 2022 AIG Women’s Open after four-hole playoff

Ashleigh Buhai had waited until she was 33 for her first major championship win, so four more holes was nothing. After shooting 75 in the final round of the first Women’s Open at Muirfield to blow away a five-stroke lead, Buhai In outlasted Gee Chun in a playoff lasting over an hour as the sun set on East Lothian, as well as men and men. women’s major championship season.

Buhai is a Cinderella story only on the Wikipedia page. The South African entered the week lacking a major top 10 (her only one came at the 2019 Women’s Open at Woburn), but she was also ranked No. 84 in the world and had top 25s at the last two women’s majors. at the Women’s PGA Championship and the Evian Championship.

She came out rolling the first three days at Muirfield. A 70 in Round 1 was followed by rounds of 65 and 64 that included 13 birdies, an eagle and just two bogeys to put her five clear of Chun, as well as playing partner Hinako Shibuno entering the final on Sunday to end a historic week of Muirfield.

After playing the first 14 holes of the final round in sufficient 1 over, Muirfield created a disaster on the par-4 15th. Buhai hit his drive into a bunker and it got much worse from there. A sideways second preceded a duffed third. She triple-bogeyed 7 to fall into a tie for second with Chun, who was one hole ahead. They both parred the last three holes to advance to the playoff.

For someone like Buhai, who was playing in his 43rd career major championship, this can often be disastrous. The world begins to spin, the shots begin to rage and what 10 minutes ago felt like total control now feels like an 18-wheeler on ice going downhill.

However, she put both hands on the wheel and got the championship back in her grasp. That’s the sign of a mature player — Buhai has been on the LPGA Tour off and on since 2008 and was once the youngest winner in Ladies European Tour history — but it’s also the sign of a champion, which Buhai has become.

There were wobbly moments in the playoffs, too. Both players battled through plummeting temperatures, poor second shots and nerve-wracking putts to extend one of the biggest tournaments in the world. Buhai and Chun played the first three playoff holes – all the 18th at Muirfield – in 13 strokes. Par-bogey-par. Then they went to that tee for a fourth and – because of the fading sun and lack of light, probably – last time of the evening regardless of the outcome.

Chun opened the door by driving her ball into a bunker, but Buhai blocked her access to a bunker that screamed “5.” Instead, she hit the shot of her life and Chun made a miracle bid. Buhai poured in a card to give her the championship that could have slipped through her fingers so many times in the previous hours.

Buhai joined fellow South Africans Gary Player (1959) and Ernie Els (2002) as champions at Muirfield.

“It’s so hard to put into words now, I think it might hit me in a few days,” she said through tears afterwards. “Obviously I’m very proud. We’re a very small country, so to be able to produce quite a few big champions, that’s quite something. For me to be a female South African and a big winner, I have no words. It’s life-changing.”

It was an emotional victory for her, for very obvious reasons, but it was also an emotionally compelling victory to watch for less obvious ones.

All big wins – both on the men’s and women’s side – are life-changing, but not all are liked life changing. And for Buhai, a career grinder who has not won very often at the highest level in the world, this was a revelation. She grabbed the front of her hat and pulled it over her eyes, the reality of what she had undoubtedly always imagined too much for her to bear at the moment. A beautiful result in a long summer and an even longer career.

It’s a wonderful curiosity to watch golfers try to understand or contextualize what they’ve just accomplished seconds after it happens. This happens all the time all over the golfing world, but it rarely happens at this level with so much at stake. Buhai – because of her week and because of a long (but not illustrious) career and because of the way she bounced back from what could have been a nightmare at No. 15 and because of Muirfield – more than anyone else in 2022 the big season had both the past and the future written all over her face. All at the same time and all in the present. What a wonderful thing to behold.

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