‘Smiling Cinderella’ Hinako Shibuno wins AIG Women’s British Open on major debut


Hinako Shibuno wins the Women’s British Open at Woburn by one shot on her major championship debut

It was a fairytale ending for 20-year-old Hinako Shibuno as she rolled in a final hole birdie putt to beat Lizette Salas by a single shot at Woburn Golf Club with a score of 18-under-par. 

Shibuno, nicknamed the ‘Smiling Cinderella’, had never played outside of her home country of Japan before this week, but outshone the world’s best players with a final round four-under 68 to claim the AIG Women’s British Open on her major championship debut. 

The two-time Japan Tour winner, who is playing her rookie season on the Japanese LPGA Tour, held the overnight lead and recovered brilliantly from a nervy start that included a four-putt double-bogey on the third and front nine 37 with a five-under back nine to claim the biggest trophy of her career.

“I can’t really describe with words right now what I’m feeling,” said Shibuno. “Last night, I knew I was going to be nervous, but then also I was thinking that I was going to cope in these situations, and when I was thinking about how nervous I was going to be, starting today, I didn’t really feel that nervous.

“I don’t think not many people, including me, like to be in a situation where you’re leading. I feel like it’s better to be behind than leading. That was true today and I was able to play easier when I was in that position.

“I was looking at the board all the time, and knew my position, where I stood in the tournament. That was also true before the putt on the 18th and I was also thinking about if I were to make this putt, how I was going to celebrate. Every time I would make a birdie putt or a par save, a lot of people got up their hands to high-five me, and that was a very happy feeling.”

The leaderboard was ever-changing throughout an afternoon of thrilling golf that at one stage featured five players in a share at the top, but it was Salas who eventually broke free to set the clubhouse target at 17-under-par.

Shibuno, earning her richly deserved nickname as she high-fived her way through the enthusiastic crowds, had caught up with Salas by the 15th hole thanks to birdies on the 10th, 12th and 13th holes, and needed a final-hole par to force a play-off or better to win.

A perfect drive was followed by a shot to the middle of the green, and she rolled in an unlikely, lengthy birdie putt at pace to capture her first major title.

World No.1 Jin Young Ko, who has already claimed two major titles this year, briefly held a share of the lead with Salas and Shibuno but couldn’t capatalise on birdie chances on the final few holes and settled for third place. 

Morgan Pressel got to within one of the lead but pulled her approach to the 18th hole in to the left greenside bunker and walked away with a bogey to finish fourth on 15-under, while the18-hole and 36-hole leader Ashleigh Buhai settled for fifth. 

Defending Champion Georgia Hall got off to a good start with a pair of 69s but struggled over the weekend with a 74 and 73 to finish tied for 35th, while home favourite Charley Hull dropped back to a share of 24th thanks to a final-round 76.

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