04 Dec 2022 | Australian Open |
Buhai secures Open double
by Dane Heverin
Ashleigh Buhai now has two trophies to bring home to South Africa later this month as she held on to win her first ISPS HANDA Australian Open crown by a shot at Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne.
Buhai held her nerve during a tense back nine but ultimately her one-over par round of 73 was enough to become the first player since Yani Tseng in 2011 to win both the AIG Women’s Open and the Australian national title in the same year.
Her victory on Sunday even possessed shades of her Muirfield triumph in August where she won a playoff after shooting four-over in the final round to let her rivals back in with a chance.
"I tend to try and make things hard for myself," Buhai said.
Once again the 33-year-old appeared in control as she held firm to reach the turn with a three shot lead while her playing partners Jiyai Shin and Hannah Green fell away in the warm and windy conditions.
The tale had more twists and turns to come however with bogeys at the 10th, 14th and 16th gradually eroding her lead.
Australia’s latest graduate to the LPGA Grace Kim played her way into a share of the lead heading down the last, but their fortunes headed in opposite directions on opposite fairways.
Kim buried her hopes of ending the international dominance in this event - only three Australians have won their home Open - in a fairway bunker on the final hole and went on to make double bogey after three putting, while Buhai made a clutch up-and-down for birdie at the par-5 17th to make it back to 12-under.
Overnight leader Shin also made a late charge to be only one shot back heading down the last, and hearts were in mouths surrounding the 18th green as her birdie putt slid past the right edge of the cup.
That miss guaranteed that Buhai’s par would get her hands on the Patricia Bridges Bowl.
“It’s the cherry on the top I guess. Sorry, it just hit me,” Buhai said.
“And obviously at the last minute, to have Dave (her husband) on the bag, it’s very special to be able to celebrate together."
David Buhai is a professional caddie and has regularly jumped on the bag for his wife, but he was outside the ropes at Muirfield and went viral for his massive celebration.
This time around, he was far more subdued due to being on the job.
“He was good today. It was a bit easier for him being inside the ropes than outside the ropes. You’re a little bit more in control,” Buhai said of her husband.
"We walked off 16 and I think by then I was tied for the lead and he said, whatever happens now, I want you to commit to every shot, and no matter what the outcome is and that’s all you can do. That’s what got me the job done at the British this year and that’s all I tried to focus on the whole day, but the wind was tricky today.
"He just kept me calm and I think once I knew I had a one shot lead I felt pretty comfortable in a way, but then Jiya hit it close from 18. But he was just really good at keeping me in the moment, because I do get a little nervy out there, for sure."
The Buhai’s will now spend the next week with friends and family in Sydney before taking her two prized possessions home to South Africa for a homecoming like Minjee Lee and Cameron Smith have enjoyed in the past fortnight.
Her victory is the latest chapter in Buhai’s 20-year history with Australia. Her parents sent her out here to compete in the Jack Newton International Junior Classic as a 13-year-old and she has loved playing golf here ever since.
"Now I’ve got a lot of friends and family here and we haven’t been here for almost three years," Buhai said. "So (playing this week) was a way to see them and then obviously to be able to play on these two fantastic golf courses. I’m a golf nut, so any time I get to play on courses like this and just to be back in Oz has been fantastic."
From an Australian perspective, Green (-10), Kim (-9), Lee (-8) and Stephanie Kyriacou (-5) all cracked the top ten. Low amateur honours went to Australian Amateur champion Fiona Xu of New Zealand who finished tenth at three-under par.
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