08 Aug 2022 | Professional golf |
Lee’s Women’s Open charge falls just short
by Australian Golf Media
By Tony Webeck
West Australian Minjee Lee has earned a third top-four major finish this year on a dramatic final day at the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield in Scotland.
Tied for sixth but nine strokes off the lead, Lee and fellow Australian Stephanie Kyriacou vowed to go all out in their pursuit of South African Ashleigh Buhai.
Kyriacou was the one with momentum early on her way to a round of even par 71 and tie for seventh but it was Lee who would come closest in the championship’s closing stages.
Five strokes clear at the start of play, what began as an expected procession for Buhai (75) ended in a playoff with Korean In Gee Chun (70) after the pair finished 72 holes tied at 10-under.
A sand save at the first playoff hole kept Chun in the contest and then it took a bogey putt from six feet to send the championship to a third extra hole.
Both players saw birdie attempts sit agonisingly on the edge of the cup at the third playoff hole before the best bunker shot of her life handed Buhai the title she was destined to win at the fourth extra hole.
Lee would finish three shots back in a tie for fourth at seven-under yet having started the day nine back very nearly reeled Buhai in.
Two-under through 16 holes, Lee two-putted for birdie at the par-5 17th to reach eight-under for the championship, oblivious to the drama playing out three groups behind her.
Buhai was one-over through 14 holes before one poor shot turned the tournament on its head.
The 33-year-old’s tee shot on 15 found the bunker on the left of the fairway, her only option to play sideways toward Muirfield’s gnarly rough.
Intending to hit it only a couple of yards onto the short grass or first cut at worst, Buhai’s sandy escape came out hot and nestled into the long grass.
She progressed her next shot only a matter of 30 yards and after finding the front edge of the green with her fourth three-putted for a triple-bogey seven.
It brought Lee back to within two with one hole to play, a perfect drive down the right side of the fairway giving the US Women’s Open champio the green light to go at the flag on the 72nd hole.
Unfortunately for the West Australian her approach shot leaked left and found the greenside pot bunker. She was unable to save her par and joined Lena Maguire (66) as the joint clubhouse leader at seven-under.
It completes one of the greatest major seasons ever compiled by an Australian, her US Women’s Open triumph, runner-up at the KPMG Women’s PGA and tie for fourth at Muirfield adding weight to her claim as the best player in the women’s game.
“I feel like I played pretty good considering how windy it was all week,” Lee reflected.
“I feel like I’ve had some really great finishes at the majors. I won the US Open, I did really well at KPMG and I’m going to finish pretty well here too.”
Earlier in the round it was Kyriacou with the South African in her sights.
The 21-year-old made birdie at three of her opening six holes to climb to eight-under and a tie for third.
Her championship hopes took a gut-punch when she made double bogey at the par-3 seventh, getting back to seven-under with a birdie at the par-4 11th.
Promising all-out attack, Kyriacou’s patient approach was an impressive show of maturity on such a stage.
The thin margins on which links golf is played led to double bogeys at 12 and 15 but she displayed great character to birdie her final two holes and earn her first top-10 finish in a major.
“Today was a bit yucky,” was Kyriacou’s honest post-round assessment.
“I hit maybe three bad shots that cost me more than three shots but still lots of positives to take.
“I played really well the whole week, really solid. It’s tough to get angry over a couple of shots; I can’t really let that define my whole week.
“It might sound a bit arrogant but I think I’m going to win majors. It’s just a matter of time I feel.”
Little more than 12 months after reeling in a seven-stroke deficit in the final round of the Amundi Evian Championship, Lee also made a positive impact on Buhai’s nine-stroke head-start.
Birdies at three and five were separated by a dropped shot at four, a shot she got back with a birdie at eight to turn in two-under to reduce the margin to seven.
The 26-year-old narrowly missed a fourth birdie at the par-4 12th and then made a clutch sand save from the pot bunker right of the par-3 13th green to keep her slim hopes alive.
An inward nine of five-over 40 saw Hannah Green post a closing 75 to finish tied for 35th, fellow West Australian Whitney Hillier (75) tied for 48th as she made the cut at the Women’s Open for the first time in four attempts.
Final Australian results:
Winner Ashleigh Buhai 70-65-64-75—274
T4 Minjee Lee 68-70-70-69—277
T7 Steph Kyriacou 70-68-70-71—279
T7 Lydia Ko (NZ) 71-70-70-68—279
T35 Hannah Green 71-66-74-75—286
T48 Whitney Hillier 72-69-73-75—289
MC Su Oh 77-75—152
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