[IMAGE: Brett Costello]
Minjee Lee is fighting hard to keep pace with her younger brother at the ISPS Handa Australian Open, but South African Ashleigh Buhai is continuing to play spoiler.
The 27-year-old Australian set a new course record for The Australian today, a five-under par 67, but she will begin Sunday’s final round seven shots back from the lead in the quest for her first national Open title.
That’s because Buhai, the world No.26 and the defending champion from Melbourne last year, has been sublime all week.
The South African who plays on the LPGA Tour birdied the first four holes, including a hole-out from a greenside bunker at the par-4 fourth, and took control of the tournament.
As for Lee, she sensed Buhai “running away with it” but kept pressing with six birdies and a lone bogey, on the 13th when she drove into the fairway bunker.
They are the best brother-sister act in Australian sports and Min Woo has had a brilliant week, despite losing the outright lead today. Both are playing in the final groups of their respective tournaments.
Theoretically they remain a chance to create history by both winning on Sunday, but Minjee in particular needs to go as low or lower than she did in her first major championship win, the Evian Championship in France in 2021, when she started the final round seven shots back, shot 64 and won a playoff.
She needs something outrageous on Sunday but she will be in the final group alongside Buhai and South Korea’s Jiyai Shin, who were winner and runner-up at Victoria in 2022 as well.
“I mean, I didn’t have my best day yesterday but at least I had a little bit better score, but golf is like that sometimes,” Lee said. “But yeah, I’m going to do my very best, like I always do and hopefully we’ve both got the trophy by the end of Sunday, it would be amazing, but I think I have some work to do.”
Buhai equalled the course record later with her 67 and at 12-under overall, she leads by three shots from Shin, who tread water with an even-par 72.
The South African led by five shots at one point and when she made mistakes, her scrambling was brilliant.
“It was pretty much a dream start,” she said. “The first few holes, I would say, were gettable. More gettable than the rest of the course. You’ve got to ride it when it starts to happen. Then the pin placements were tucked away, I played smart golf to the safe side. I putted really good today.”
Buhai said she would not fall into the trap of looking ahead.
“No number, just stay in my little bubble, do what I can control,” she said.
The other Australian vaguely in the mix is Sydney’s Steph Kyriacou, who had a third-round 69 to finish at four-under and eight shots from the lead.
“Any Sunday in a golf tournament there’s lots of pressure and I think being the chaser there’s not as much pressure,” she said today. “ But yeah, you never know what’s going to happen. I’m going to probably play pretty aggressive, not anything silly but I know I need to make birdies if I want to win and yeah, if you’re not first, you’re last.”
A cluster of other Australians – Gabi Ruffels, Hannah Green, Cassie Porter, Grace Kim and amateurs Hannah Reeves, Caitlin Peirce and Justice Bosio are also inside the top 10.
FULL AUSTRALIAN OPEN COVERAGE HERE