Ashleigh Buhai acknowledged she had probably delivered the performance of her life after taking command of the AIG Women’s Open with a simply phenomenal display in Saturday’s third round.
On an afternoon that saw strong winds buffet Muirfield, only two players in the final 10 groups were able to break 70.
Hinako Shibuno, the Champion of 2019, went round in 66 to leap into a tie for second at nine-under with In Gee Chun, but Buhai was even more impressive, shooting 64 with the aid of eight birdies to open up a five-stroke advantage over Shibuno and Chun with 18 holes to play.
Asked if she has ever played better than she did at Muirfield in round three, Buhai said: “Probably not. I think I'm most proud of the way I just stayed focused and calm, and that's all I try to control. I wasn't thinking of the outcome.
“Obviously I'm very pleased. To be able to shoot that score in those conditions, you have to be able to pat yourself on the back; so much so that I thought I was 6-under, not seven.
“I was feeling pretty calm. I've done good work on my swing with my coach for so long now, and I feel my lines are where they need to be and I just need to keep my tempo. If I keep my tempo, then most of the time it tends to fall. The club tends to fall where it needs to fall.”
Buhai’s tempo and rhythm was certainly impressive as the winds rose on the back nine.
“We've kind of got it down to where if I swing 40 per cent up and I lock it in at the top, then my tempo is good, or you count one, two, three,” she explained.
“That's all I'm trying to do is remind myself of every shot and 40 per cent up, 40 per cent up, and that's my only focus. After that, wherever the ball goes, it goes and luckily today, I hit it pretty straight.”
With a five-shot lead, Buhai is now the clear favourite to succeed Anna Nordqvist as the AIG Women’s Open Champion.
However, the South African – looking to emulate her childhood hero Ernie Els and Gary Player by securing a major victory at Muirfield – is taking nothing for granted.
“I don't think you can ever be comfortable in a major whether you're coming from behind or leading,” said Buhai, whose only top-10 finish to date in a major was her placing of fifth at Woburn in 2019.
“It's going to be another tough day. The wind is going to blow, which is good. I prefer it that way.
“But they say big leads are often more difficult, and I think it’s because you try to maybe play defensively. I think I'll just keep doing what I'm doing and sticking to those steps.
“I only saw a leaderboard for the first time I think when I was on 12 -- no, 13. And then I just said to myself, okay, that's fine, you're in a good spot. Check back in with yourself now and concentrate on what you're trying to do.”
A three-time winner of her home Open in South Africa, Buhai would be thrilled to claim a major breakthrough in a country she is extremely fond of.
“There’s something about Scotland to be honest. I love it,” she added.
“I've said this is my favourite Championship of the year. I love links golf. I love how you have to be creative. You don't have to stripe it. You just have to know what shot you're hitting and commit to that one.
“I like to be able to flight the ball and I do that pretty well and taking the spin off it, and I think that's obviously a huge key in wind being able to do that.”