9 November 2017

South Africa: SA's Buhai Bags Blue Bay Lead As Pace Falters

Reigning Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies champion Ashleigh Buhai holds a one-shot lead after two rounds of the LPGA Blue Bay after she posted one of just two rounds in the 60s on a blustery Thursday in Hainan Island, China.

After six weeks at home, Buhai re-joined the LPGA Tour at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, but a foot injury forced her to withdraw in the final round.

She flew to Abu Dhabi where she competed in the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open on the Ladies European Tour. After a sluggish start, she travelled to China buoyed by a strong performance in the final round that boosted her to a tie for 33rd at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.

Buhai and compatriot Lee-Anne Pace both got off to a fast start at the Jian Lake Blue Bay Golf Club and rounds of five-under-par 67 saw the South African pair start the second round two off the pace from South Korea's Sun Young Yoo.

On a day when only six players broke par and the average score hovered around the 76 mark, Buhai fired a four-under 68 to move into the second round lead at nine-under 135.

'I was kind of just playing the golf course as it came,' said the 28-year-old.

'It played a lot tougher than the last few days. The wind was more or less the same direction, just stronger. It helped being the same direction as you have an idea what to do. It was just a case of taking more club and just trying to play it with the wind.'

Shanshan Feng from China went one better with a 67 to move to second on eight under, while Yoo finished alone in third on five-under after posting 74. Former champion Pace carded a second round 75 to slip to joint eighth on two-under.

Buhai mixed birdies at three and four with a bogey at the sixth to turn one under and racked up further gains at 12, 14, 15 and 18 after starting the back nine with a bogey.

'I've always played pretty well in the wind,' said Buhai. 'I think it's because I can work the ball. I feel like I can flight it up or down. So maybe in a way the wind does play into my hands. It just depends on what kind of week you're having. When you are hitting it good, it does.'

She chipped in at 12, before holing short putts for birdies at 14 and 18.

'I left it short right of the green at 12 and pin was at the back,' the Johannesburg and Kensington golfer explained. 'It didn't really have a chance, because it was downhill and downwind. I hit a lob-wedge and bounced it into the hill perfectly and the ball just kept trickling. I was happy enough to have it stiff, and next minute, I looked, it dropped in. It was so cool.

'At 14, the par five, I was on the green in two and putted for three from the fringe. I didn't have far coming back and holed it. I had given myself some good chances at 16 and 17. I hit good putts that just stayed out, so I felt I was due one. I hit a good shot into 18 and holed out.'

A seven-time Sunshine Ladies Tour champion, Buhai has won twice on the Ladies European Tour, but she is still hunting a maiden LPGA Tour title.

She has made 10 cuts in 20 starts on the US-based circuit this season, including two top-five finishes - a tie for fifth in the Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim and a runner-up finish in the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic - and this is the first time since she joined the pro ranks in 2008 that Buhai holds the 36-hole lead.

'I feel I am getting more comfortable with the situation. I always say, winning is a feeling, no matter where you're trying to win,' Buhai said.

'Obviously the stage out here is huge and everybody at the top of the leaderboard has a chance to win this week. I feel if I keep just trusting my swing and sticking to my goals and my plan, hopefully I will have a chance.'

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