South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai savoured a “life-changing” achievement after defeating three-time major winner In Gee Chun in a play-off to win the AIG Women’s Open.
With the light fading fast at Muirfield, Buhai tapped in for par on the fourth extra hole at 9:10pm to seal a nerve-wracking victory, having twice surrendered seemingly commanding leads with a closing 75.
Five shots clear heading into the final round, Buhai was still three ahead with four holes to play, only to run up a triple-bogey seven on the 15th after finding sand off the tee and splashing out sideways into heavy rough.
That dropped the 33-year-old into a tie for the lead with Chun, the South Korean then completing a closing 70 in the group ahead to set the clubhouse target on 10 under.
After her birdie putt on the par-five 17th caught the edge of the hole and stayed out, Buhai had to hole from four feet on the last to force a play-off after charging her long birdie attempt past the hole.
The players returned to the 18th for extra holes and Chun brilliantly saved par from a greenside bunker to keep her hopes alive, with Buhai two-putting from long range.
Both players missed the green on the second extra hole and hit poor third shots before Chun inexplicably charged her par putt eight feet past the hole, but the 27-year-old recovered her composure to salvage a bogey after Buhai’s long par attempt came up short.
Despite the fading light and dropping temperature, Chun and Buhai both hit superb shots into the green on the third extra hole, but neither was able to convert.
It was debatable whether a fifth extra hole would have been possible if required, but Buhai finally settled the outcome in style with a brilliant greenside bunker shot setting up a tap-in par which Chun – who had found sand off the tee – was unable to match.
“I am so proud of myself, how I dug deep to get into the play-off,” said Buhai, who joins compatriots Gary Player (1959) and Ernie Els (2002) in winning a major title at Muirfield.
“It’s so difficult to put into words right now. It might only hit me in a few days but obviously I’m very proud.
“We’re a very small country so to be able to produce quite a few major champions it’s quite something, and now for me to be a female South African major winner I’ve got no words – it’s life-changing.”
Former champion Hinako Shibuno finished a shot outside the play-off after a final round of 71, with Ireland’s Leona Maguire two strokes further back in a tie for fourth alongside Madelene Sagstrom and Minjee Lee.
Maguire, who secured her best finish to date in a major thanks to an eagle and three birdies in a flawless closing 66, said: “(I’m) really pleased.
“I don’t think I could have played much better today. Had a few chances coming in, would have been nice to hole a couple more putts, but it was tough out there and definitely my best golf of the week so far.
“Any time you shoot bogey-free under par in the last round of a major you’re happy so it’s nice momentum heading into next week (the ISPS Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland).”
A closing 69 gave Scotland’s Louise Duncan a share of 19th place and her first cheque as a professional, 12 months after she was unable to claim prize money of £80,000 for finishing tied 10th as an amateur at Carnoustie.
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