South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai has the chance to become a rare back-to-back winner of the women’s title at the ISPS HANDA Australian Open on Sunday.
The defending champion made her move early in the third round with a hot streak of four birdies from the opening hole to leapfrog halfway leader Jiyai Shin of Korea.
It was a lead she never surrendered as Saturday unfolded at The Australian Golf Club in Sydney. Her five-under-par 67 also gave her a share of a new course record with Australia’s Minjee Lee with this set-up in play for the first time without preferred lies.
Buhai (68-70-67) is on 12-under-par and will take a three-shot lead into Sunday’s final round. Shin is still the closest challenger after her even-par third round of 72.
Within reach for Buhai is becoming just the third back-to-back winner of the title since its inception in 1974. Only Taiwan’s Yani Tseng (2010-11) and Australia’s Karrie Webb (2007-08) have defended their titles in the rich history of the tournament.
Buhai’s love affair with Australia is well known. She won the Jack Newton International Junior Classic in 2004 when a schoolgirl on a visit from South Africa. She has been an almost annual visitor since those days with family and friends living in Sydney.
She rolled in putts for birdies on the opening three holes but it was an exquisite hole-out from the bunker on the par three fourth hole for her fourth straight birdie which raised a gleeful smile. She had to land the ball perfectly on the slope left of the hole and the ball dutifully tracked right and into the cup.
“It was pretty much a dream start. I putted really good today with very good speed,” Buhai said of a round without a bogey.
“I’m feeding off the crowds. I’ve got a lot of friends out there and there are a lot of South Africans in Australia so I feel plenty of support. It’s obvious I love playing golf here.
“I’ve no number (for Sunday). Again, just stay in my little bubble and do what I can control.”
Buhai is aware that the back-to-back feat is rare: “It would be special. ‘Webby’ texted me at the beginning of the week to wish me luck. If I could put my name on that trophy twice, it would be great.”
Australia’s world No.5 Minjee Lee roared up the leaderboard with her 67 but she may already be too far back in third at five-under overall and seven behind.