Picking up like she never left.
After being sidelined for five weeks from the LPGA Tour due to a back injury flareup, Ashleigh Buhai made a splash in her first competitive start since the Kroger Queen City Championship. The 34-year-old recorded a new career-best 18-hole score of 62 to hold the 18-hole lead for the second time in her Tour career at the BMW Ladies Championship, and also broke the previous 18-hole tournament scoring record. Buhai, who already has a win under her belt this season from the ShopRite LPGA Classic, carded 10 birdies on the day, the most of anyone of the first round.
“My wedge play was really solid today. I mean, I hit every time and just about had a wedge in my hand, I hit it to a couple feet. So I didn't have to think too hard on those putts. But then I rolled the ball really well too,” said Buhai. “When I didn't hit it too close, the ones that didn't go in burnt the edges. So I felt all round of my game is in a good place at the moment.”
Starting on No. 2, Buhai found her first birdies of Thursday on Nos. 11 and 13, and made three straight from Nos. 15-17 before turning in 31. She carded her sixth birdie of the round on No. 1, and went on to close with four birdies in her last six holes, including one on her closing hole (No. 9). Buhai credited her play in part to being able to take the forced five-week break away from competition, and though she’s still recovering from injury, this day of “boring golf” was an impressive first step back to feeling confident in her game in the Republic of Korea.
“I've had one week of practice coming into here. And my goal for this week was to play with no expectations, and that's often when you try to play well in a game,” said Buhai. “My coach came into Florida last week, we worked on three things, and I've just tried to stick to doing those three things.”
Alison Lee tied her career-low 18 hole score after shooting a 9-under 63 to sit in solo second and just one back of Buhai’s lead. Lee is comfortable in Korean events; she’s finished in the top 10 in both previous appearances in the BMW Ladies Championship, and lost in a playoff to Carlota Ciganda at the 2016 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship to earn her career-best result on Tour.
“I feel like my game is in a really good place. I'm striking the ball really well. I feel really good about my swing. Just something that's been lacking over the last year has been the putting,” said Lee, carded nine birdies in her 18 holes. “And so today I was just making the putts I wanted to make. And it was a lot of fun for me out there, being able to shoot 9-under. I think that's tying my record for lowest round out here in tournament play on Tour. So I'm really happy with that.”
LPGA Tour winners Ayaka Furue and Minjee Lee sit in a tie for third after shooting 8-under 64s. Lee was just 3-under through 14 holes until she took advantage of the par-5 15th, carding her seventh eagle of the season. She followed up the eagle with three-consecutive birdies in her closing holes to card her seventh round in the 60s dating back to the Kroger Queen City Championship.
“I bogeyed the par-3, the hole before the par-5, so I was like I really just want to make a birdie to get back. So, I mean, I had a really good number in. I had 204 meters to the pin. So it was a really well-struck 5-wood, and I just pitched on the front and then rolled about -- probably about 27 -- like 9 meters, like 27 feet,” said Lee. “I had a pretty good -- I mean, I read it great, and it went in. So, yeah, it was nice to see it drop.”
Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Maja Stark, Hae Ran Ryu and Rolex Rankings No. 2 Ruoning Yin sit in a tie for fifth at -7, with Ryu the lowest Korean of the field through the first day. Tour rookie Yan Liu and three-time 2023 winner Celine Boutier round out the top 10 at -6 and in a tie for ninth. Defending champion Lydia Ko carded a 5-under 67 and sits among five players in a tie for 11th. World No. 1 Lilia Vu rebounded from a double bogey on her second hole to record five birdies over the rest of her round to sit in a tie for 24th at -3.