Minjee’s Women’s Open charge falls just short

8th Aug 2022

Australian Golf Media – Tony Webeck

West Australian Minjee Lee has earned a third top-four major finish this year on a dramatic final day at the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield in Scotland.

Tied for sixth but nine strokes off the lead, Lee and Sydney-born Stephanie Kyriacou vowed to go all out in their pursuit of South African Ashleigh Buhai.

Kyriacou was the one with momentum early on her way to a round of even par 71 and tie for seventh but it was the West Australian who would come closest in the championship’s closing stages.

Five strokes clear at the start of play, what began as an expected procession for Buhai (75) ended in a playoff with Korean In Gee Chun (70) after the pair finished 72 holes tied at 10-under.

Both players saw birdie attempts sit agonisingly on the edge of the cup at the third playoff hole before the best bunker shot of her life handed Buhai the title she was destined to win at the fourth extra hole.

Lee would finish three shots back in a tie for fourth at seven-under yet having started the day nine back very nearly reeled Buhai in.

Two-under through 16 holes, Lee two-putted for birdie at the par-5 17th to reach eight-under for the championship, oblivious to the drama playing out three groups behind her.

Buhai was one-over through 14 holes before one poor shot turned the tournament on its head.

The 33-year-old’s tee shot on 15 found the bunker on the left of the fairway, her only option to play sideways toward the gnarly rough.

Intending to hit it only a couple of yards onto the short grass or first cut at worst, Buhai’s sandy escape came out hot and nestled into the long grass.

She progressed her next shot only a matter of 30 yards and after finding the front edge of the green with her fourth three-putted for a triple-bogey seven.

It brought Lee back to within two with one hole to play, a perfect drive down the right side of the fairway giving the US Women’s Open champion the green light to go at the flag on the 72nd hole.

Unfortunately for Minjee, her approach shot leaked left and found the greenside pot bunker. She was unable to save her par and joined Lena Maguire (66) as the joint clubhouse leader at seven-under.

It completes one of the greatest major seasons ever compiled by an Australian, her US Women’s Open triumph, runner-up at the KPMG Women’s PGA and tie for fourth at Muirfield adding weight to her claim as the best player in the women’s game.

“I feel like I played pretty good considering how windy it was all week,” Lee reflected.

“I feel like I’ve had some really great finishes at the majors. I won the US Open, I did really well at KPMG and I’m going to finish pretty well here too.”

Little more than 12 months after reeling in a seven-stroke deficit in the final round of the Amundi Evian Championship, Lee also made a positive impact on Buhai’s nine-stroke head-start.

Birdies at three and five were separated by a dropped shot at four, a shot she got back with a birdie at eight to turn in two-under to reduce the margin to seven.

The 26-year-old narrowly missed a fourth birdie at the par-4 12th and then made a clutch sand save from the pot bunker right of the par-3 13th green to keep her slim hopes alive.

An inward nine of five-over 40 saw Hannah Green post a closing 75 to finish tied for 35th, fellow West Australian Whitney Hillier (75) tied for 48th as she made the cut at the Women’s Open for the first time in four attempts.

Final Australian results:

  • Winner Ashleigh Buhai 70-65-64-75—274

  • T4 Minjee Lee 68-70-70-69—277

  • T35 Hannah Green 71-66-74-75—286

  • T48 Whitney Hillier 72-69-73-75—289