Ashleigh Buhai was understandably delighted to card 65 on day two of the AIG Women’s Open, leaving her just a shot off the lead on seven-under-par.
The leader at the halfway stage at Woburn three years ago put herself in the mix this time round with a blistering start on Friday, shooting 30 on the front nine.
She is bidding to become the third South African to win an Open at Muirfield, 20 years after Ernie Els won the first of his two Open titles on this course and 63 years on from Gary Player's maiden title.
“I'm super chuffed with how I played today,” reflected Buhai.
“I stayed very patient. Stuck with my steps and my processes, which is my goal this week, just to do those well and hopefully the outcome takes care of itself. I've been doing that pretty well the last few weeks.
"Obviously I’m disappointed to end with a bogey. I hit it in the fairway. The divot was softer than I thought, so a little unlucky but I would have taken today's score at the beginning of the day for sure.”
That was the only blemish on an otherwise brilliant day for Buhai, who delivered a masterclass in links golf. She eagled the par-5 fifth and also picked up birdies at two, four, six, nine and 11. The back nine was more of a grind, with just the sole birdie before bunker trouble at the 18th relinquished her share of first place as In Gee Chun finished the outright leader on eight-under-par.
Discussing her labours at the 18th, Buhai said: “That's what links golf is about. You can hit poor shots and they turn out good, and you can hit good shots and they turn out poor. I didn't hit a very good shot on 16 today and I got lucky.
“So you've got to take the bounces when you get them and I did. I took my par and ran.
“I'm not disappointed with how I finished, and just have to take the positives into tomorrow.”
Buhai’s 2019 AIG Women’s Open bid ended with a fifth-place finish, her only top-10 at a major to date, and she believes that this Championship helps to bring the best out of her game.
“Every time you're in this position you get a little bit more familiar with it,” she said. “Obviously Woburn is very different, parkland as opposed to links. But I do love playing links golf. This is my favourite Championship of the year. I look forward to it and I love links golf, and the creativity that you have to have.”
This is the first time that Muirfield has hosted the AIG Women’s Open and it would mean a great deal to Buhai to be able to emulate her childhood hero and compatriot Els, and win at one of golf’s most famous courses.
“Obviously I know Ernie won here and even when we were playing in our practice round, I said to my caddie, 'let's see how Ernie hit the shot,'" she said. “I was YouTubing it while we were out there, his famous bunker shot.
“I haven't spoken to Ernie recently but I'm now living full-time in Florida and I got to play a little bit with him and he was my hero growing up.
“It's pretty cool to be able to play well for the first two rounds here and try to follow in his footsteps.”