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Buhai gutsed her way through a difficult, windy final day at The Australian, shooting a 3-over 75 to cling to victory at 9-under par.
Koreans Jenny Shin and Jiyai Shin tied-third at 4-under.
Runner-up Lee, Australia’s world No. 5, played some brilliant golf and shot a 3-under 69 in a two-player contest that came down to the last hole, the par-5 18th.
Buhai had opened the door for Lee by hitting her second shot into the water left of the 17th green and although she scrambled a bogey, it left her only a shot ahead coming down the last.
But Lee could only make a par 5 at the 18th after finding the left fairway trap, and Buhai laid up short and then wedged to 10 feet to give herself two putts for the win. At the end of a titanic battle, she rolled in a three footer for the Patricia Bridges Bowl.
It is Lee’s best finish in her national Open, an event she craves. She was fifth in 2022 and 2018, third in 2017, seventh in 2015 and as a 17-year-old amateur in 2014, had a share of the lead going into the final day before finishing 11th.
Her time is surely coming.
Starting the final round seven shots behind Buhai, she immediately put down the hammer with a birdie from the greenside bunker at the first and then from a gorgeous short iron shot at the par-3 second.
But each time she made ground, she would make a mistake; a three-putt bogey at the fourth hole, a flared tee shot into the tree line at the sixth. A double bogey at the par-4 13th where her chip from short of the green came back to her feet was crucial.
But even then, she made birdie at 14 and Buhai bogeyed to reduce the margin to two shots.
She’s looking forward to a holiday that will last until February.
“I’m happy but I’m a little unhappy at the same time,” she said.
“I want to reflect, I want to reset my goals. I’ve had a successful year, but I feel like the beginning was not as good as I wanted. There are a few things I want to reflect back on and I’m really proud of how I came back. I felt like I really deserved the wins that I had come the end of the LPGA season. So I feel like this year has been really well deserved, I just want to reward myself with a bit of R&R.”
Lee began the year battling the putting yips but she made plenty over the weekend and two wins in the latter part of the year show that she can become a contender for world No. 1 next year.
“Yeah, I mean, it was hard but I’m not going to say it was the death of me. I was always going to try and fight back to where I knew I can be. I don't know what my potential is yet, so I’m going to try and keep plotting that.”
Buhai showed fortitude in the extreme on the final day, from the time she snap-hooked her opening tee shot into a spectator’s beer cup down the left side of the fairway.
She never looked entirely comfortable and the birdies would not come. Twelve straight pars were followed by a bogey from off the front of the 13th, and she threw in two more dropped shots coming home.
In the end her rounds of 68-70-67-75 gave her a second national title to go with the one she claimed at Victoria last year.
"I said to my caddie: 'I know Minjee's going to come, but she has to chase. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing. That's all I can control'."
Australians Hannah Green and Stephanie Kyriacou rallied on the final day to finish tied-fifth while Adelaide’s Caitlin Peirce was the top amateur in tied-seventh.
Main Image: Ashleigh Buhai is embraced by her caddie Tanya Peterson after her win. Photo Credit: Jason McCawley