South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai remained alone atop the leaderboard Friday after the second round of the AIG Women’s British Open, the LPGA’s fifth and final major championship of 2019.
For the second straight night and first time since she turned professional in 2007, Buhai will sleep on the 36-hole lead at a major after carding a bogey-free 5-under 67 on the Marquess Course at Woburn Golf Club, located in Milton Keynes, England.
The 30-year-old from Johannesburg had a flawless round that featured five birdies, including four over a six-hole stretch on the back to extend her lead to three shots and a 12-under-par total of 132 over Japan’s Hinako Shibuno, who shot 69 and stands alone in second place at 9 under.
“I’m feeling good. I’m trying not to keep thinking it’s a major, it’s just another tournament,” said Buhai, whose best major finish came at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open, where she tied for 27th. “I’m really enjoying the way the golf course is playing. I think it helps that the conditions have just been so good. We haven’t had to deal with too many elements. I’m just feeling very comfortable out there at the moment.”
A win would make Buhai just the second South African major winner, joining Sally Little, who won the 1980 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the 1988 du Maurier Classic. Buhai noted she’s been working on her mental game recently in hopes of putting herself in such a position.
“It’s something I’ve been working on the last few weeks because I’ve been under the gun, whether it’s been making the cuts or having three good rounds, one bad round. My focus is just trying to keep my tension the same whether I’m putting (or) hitting and I feel that is something you can control rather than thinking about how to hit the golf shot,” she added.
Shibuno, a JLPGA rookie, is playing in her first major competition outside her home tour. After opening with a 66 on Thursday, she followed up with a steady four-birdie, one-bogey round of 69 on Friday.
“I just wanted to make the cut,” said Shibuno, who has won twice on the JLPGA this year. A win would make her just the second Japanese player to win a major following Chako Higuchi, who won the 1977 LPGA Championship.
American Lizette Salas stands alone in third place at 8 under after firing a bogey-free round of 67.
Knotted in a tie for fourth at 7 under are France’s Celine Boutier (66), England’s Bronte Law (67), Germany’s Caroline Masson (68), Rolex Rankings No. 2 Sung Hyun Park (70) of South Korea and English star Charley Hull (70), who has been a member at Woburn since age 11.
Hot on their heels at 6 under and tied for ninth are Englishwoman and defending champion Georgia Hall (69), Spain’s Carlota Ciganda (69), 2016 champion Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand (70), American Danielle Kang (72) and Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jin Young Ko (70), who is after her third major title of 2019.
Only six players, male or female, have won three professional major championships in a single season — Pat Bradley, Ben Hogan, Inbee Park, Tiger Woods, Mickey Wright and Babe Zaharias. A win at Woburn would put Ko on that elite list, having won the 2019 ANA Inspiration and last week’s Evian Championship.
A victory also would assure Ko the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award, given to the player with the season’s most outstanding major championship performance. Ko is guaranteed the award with a top-six finish, but reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Jeongeun Lee6 (71, T-14) and 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship winner Hannah Green (71, T-51) are still in the hunt.
World No. 3 Lexi Thompson shot 70 and stands tied for 23rd at 3 under.
Two amateur players made the projected 1-over cut: Japan’s Yuka Yasuda and Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul.
Notables missing the cut include 2013 champion Stacy Lewis (78-76), 2002 champ Karrie Webb of Australia (75-73) and fellow Aussie Lydia Ko (76-80).