Joaquin Niemann and Ashleigh Buhai scuttled hometown hopes by claiming the Australian Open trophies at The Australian Golf Club.
Media release via Australian Golf Media
The dream of a pair of siblings creating history by winning the ISPS HANDA Australian Open and their national title on the same day was extinguished as internationals ruled for the second year in a row today at The Australian.
Chilean star Joaquin Niemann and South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai won by the narrowest of margins – Niemann in a sudden-death playoff over Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino and Buhai by a single shot over Australian’s Minjee Lee.
Lee’s younger brother Min Woo finished third in the men’s Open, two shots from the playoff.
They were both some chance of winning their first national Opens until deep into the final day but ultimately fell just short although their presence helped push the crowds to levels not seen in Australian golf since the halcyon days of Greg Norman.
Joaquin Niemann hit some outrageous golf shots on his way to a final-round 66 – one memorable iron from the hospitality area beside the 18th fairway, over the corporate buildings and on to the green to finish his final round, and two remarkable short irons in close for eagle chances in the playoff.
It was from the last of these, at the second hole of the playoff, that he nailed the putt from just inside three metres for the win.
After finishing on 14-under on a topsy-turvy final day, the Chilean LIV Golf player, 25, then waited more than an hour to see if he had done enough.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I wanted to win so bad for a long time.”
As for Min Woo Lee, he’d begun with a share of the lead but never had his best.
He shot a 1-over par 72 on the day, and by the time he got to the 18th, he needed eagle to reach the playoff. He made par.
“I think the positives out of that, I made up and down from literally everywhere,” he said. “It’s not good enough to win a tournament, but it’s been a really good year. I’m pretty proud of the way I’ve finished and celebrations begin today.”
It was a sensational final day with five players having at least a share of the lead at different times including Lee and two other Australians – Lucas Herbert and Adam Scott.
Veteran Scott made a withering final-round run and held the lead outright when he bombed a long birdie putt on his 15th hole of the day, the sixth on the course.
But no sooner had he celebrated in Augusta National victory style then he made triple-bogey seven on the par-4 seventh hole after an errant drive, and he finished tied fourth.
“Obviously it doesn’t look very good, but bad swing on one of the hardest holes and it’s cost me a chance,” said Scott.
“What did I have, about a five per cent chance teeing off today? So it’s hard to be really upset at myself.”
Similarly Herbert was poised until he pushed his approach right on the par-4 ninth hole and then compounded it with a three-putt for a seven. He finished tied-seventh with a few regrets.
Buhai’s second win in as many years came after a dogged battle with Minjee Lee that went to the wire.
Starting seven shots back, the Australian began with two birdies and once the South African found water at the par-4 17th hole, the difference was only one shot.
Buhai, a major winner, did not make a single birdie all day and shot 75.
Lee shot 69 with eight birdies, but at the par-5 18th when she needed something special, she drove it in the fairway bunker, wedged it to the back of the green and could only make par.
Buhai safely two-putted for her five to augment the national Open that she won in Melbourne 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’.”
As for Lee, she is looking forward to a break.
“I’m happy but unhappy at the same time,” said Lee, who has now logged four top-five finishes in her national Open without etching her name on the trophy.