During a practice round at Muirfield, South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai found herself pulling up a YouTube video of Ernie Els’ magnificent bunker shot on the 13th hole. Els was Buhai’s hero growing up, and she wanted to relive his greatest shot en route to victory at the British Open 20 years ago.
The 2022 AIG Women’s British Open marks the first time that professional women have had the chance to compete at historic Muirfield, host of 16 men’s British Opens. Buhai now lives full-time in Florida and has had the chance to play several rounds with Els when not on the road, though she didn’t get the chance to ask him about Muirfield.
Buhai led by three strokes after two rounds at Woburn in 2019 and now finds herself tied with Madelene Sagstrom at 7 under, one back of leader In Gee Chun.
“It’s pretty cool to be able to play well for the first two rounds here,” said Buhai, “and try to follow in his footsteps.”
A three-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, the 33-year-old Buhai has yet to break through on the LPGA. It looked like she might set a new championship record for a links course after a front-nine 30 that included an eagle on the par-5 fifth. A disappointing par on the par-5 17th, however, followed by a bogey on the 18th, left her with a 6-under 65. Buhai said she would’ve gladly taken that score at the start of the day.
“Super chuffed with how I played today,” she said. “I stayed very patient.”
South Korea’s Chun recently won the KPMG Women’s PGA for her third different major title. Should she claim the AIG Women’s British, she’d have four of the five major titles, only missing the Chevron Championship (thus it would be a career grand slam in the eyes of the LPGA).
Chun shot 66 on Friday and said that a bet she had with caddy Dean Herden helped her to stay focused.
“If I make the bogey-free round,” she said, “he said he’s going to buy dinner and pay me like $100 for each day if I can make it.”
Chun has recorded one bogey each day so far but enjoys the challenge of making Herden pay.
Sagstrom, who finished runner-up last year at Carnoustie, said she has only recently begun to enjoy links golf.
“It was hate at first sight,” she said. “Mega hate at first sight. I remember particularly well we played a British Am in Wales and the weather was horrendous and I couldn’t keep the ball low to save my life. I figured it out from there. This is my sixth season as a pro, so it’s taken me a little bit of time.”
Sagstrom recorded eight birdies in her second-round 65, including a couple on the last two holes.
Speaking of coming in hot, Australia’s Hannah Green birdied four of the last five holes to rocket up the board with a 66. She’s three back with Japan’s Miyu Yamashita.
Seven-time major winner Inbee Park is alone in fourth at 6 under. Park last won a major at the 2015 AIG Women’s British Open at Turnberry.
“Believe it or not, I’ve been striking the ball so well … just all year this year,” Park said, “but my putter has been just not good at all. A lot of three-putts and just missing every single opportunity on the green.”
But that changed this week, which should sound the alarm for everyone within shouting distance of the lead at Muirfield.
world no. 2 Minjee Lee, winner of two of the last six majors, is four back and has a chance to move to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings for the first time with a victory at Muirfield after Jin Young Ko missed the cut.
Lee also could rise to No. 1 with a solo second finish, should No. 3 Nelly Korda finish solo-third or worse.
No Aussie has been No. 1 since the rankings debuted in February 2006. South Korea’s Ko has been ranked No. 1 for 27 consecutive weeks dating to January 31, 2022. She’s been No. 1 for a total of 133 weeks in her career.