Ashleigh Buhai posted a bogey-free seven-under-par 65 on Thursday to stretch to a four-stroke lead at the halfway mark of the Investec South African Women’s Open Championship at Steenberg Golf Club.
The reigning AIG Women’s Open champion missed five of 14 fairways, and hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the serene way she went about her work.
Of course, it helps when you’re putting sublimely, and, with just 26 putts for the second round in a row, once she hit the front, there wasn’t much doubt that she’d be in the lead going into the final two rounds of the tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Ladies Tour and the Ladies European Tour.
“It’s always good fun to have [husband] Dave on the bag,” Buhai said. “He caddied for me for eight years, no one knows my game better other than my coach Doug Wood. It’s good when we can do these one-off weeks together every now and then.”
In her first round, she made a bogey, and for her second trip around the course, she managed to minimise errors completely.
“It is always a good day when you have no bogeys, so that’s first things first,” said Buhai, who is taking aim at what would be her fourth national open title.
“My front nine was a little bit of a slow start, and I got a bit unlucky on No 5 when I hit the flag and it ricocheted all the way back down the green. I stayed patient and then managed to finish birdie-birdie on the front nine.
“The golf course is staying soft, so you can be a bit more aggressive, but the pins were a little bit more tucked today. At the same time, I had to be patient. I felt myself trying to push a little bit and then on 7, I hit it left and I said to myself to just hit it to my spaces and the birdies will come and that’s what I did on the back nine.”
In second place was the German teenager Chiara Noja, who fired a course-record 62 in the first round to top Buhai’s opening 64. The 16-year-old Noja, who already had a Ladies European Tour title behind her name, was only able to grind out a one-under-par 71 in the second round which she started in heavy early morning rain.
There were four players in a share of third on eight under par, including last year’s runner-up Magdalena Simmermacher, who lost out to Lee-Anne Pace in an epic six-hole playoff. The Argentinean had perhaps the round of the day with her five under in the very challenging early morning conditions.
Spaniard Ana Pelaez Trivino, who also had a five under, but much later in the day, Nastasia Nadaud from France, who signed for a two-under 70; and Dutch golfer Romy Meekers, who also carded 70 share third with Simmermacher.
Backing up Buhai’s efforts for South Africa were rookie Kaleigh Telfer and Casandra Alexander.
Telfer was impressive with a bogey-free three-under-par 69, and Alexander, who has won twice on the Sunshine Ladies Tour this season, overcame a bogey on the 10th with five birdies on her way to a 68. They were on six under for the tournament in a share of sixth.
With the two South Africans were Johanna Gustavsson from Sweden, who had a 72, England’s Gabriella Cowley, who had a 69, and compatriot Lily May Himphreys, who leads the Investec Order of Merit on the Sunshine Ladies Tour after her win in the Joburg Open last week. Humphreys birdied the final hole for a round of 71.
The cut to 60 and ties fell at level-par, leaving a field of 60 professionals and South Africa’s No 1-ranked amateur Kyra van Kan to battle things out over the final 36 holes.
For Buhai, things look pretty rosy with a four-shot lead, but she knows that things can change in the blink of an eye.
“I’ll need to keep doing what I’m doing,” she said. “I will stick to my process and stick to my steps and try and stick to my thoughts that I have in my swing, that’s all I can control and hopefully the outcome will be what we want.”