Hinako Shibuno rekindled her love for the AIG Women’s Open after claiming the first round lead at Muirfield.
On an historic day for women’s golf as the East Lothian venue staged the Championship for the first time, the 2019 Champion from Japan shone on the famous links.
Shibuno, known as the ‘Smiling Cinderella’ after picking up the nickname following her triumph at Woburn three years ago, opened with an impressive six-under-par 65 to set the early pace.
With the morning starters enjoying warm and breezy conditions – the wind gusted stronger for the afternoon players – Shibuno birdied the first three holes. In total, the 23-year-old mixed eight birdies with only two bogeys to earn a one-shot advantage over American Jessica Korda.
While missing some lost luggage this week, Korda kept her composure. Placed 14th on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda, 29, posted an excellent 66 highlighted by an eagle at the par-5 17th.
Two players sit at four-under-par, including newly-turned professional Louise Duncan who rolled back the clock to her exploits at Carnoustie last year when she posted a top-ten finish to win the Smyth Salver as the leading amateur.
In the first group out at 6.30am – together with fellow Scot Catriona Matthew who struck the opening tee shot – Duncan was the early leader after two birdies in her first five holes. The 22-year-old thrilled the home crowds once more, also making an eagle on the 17th, as she signed for a 67.
Mexico’s Gaby Lopez joined Duncan on four-under later in the day, helped by three birdies in five holes from the 10th. A five-strong group are well-placed at three-under-par, featuring Swede Maja Stark, In Gee Chun from Korea, France’s Celine Boutier, Australian Minjee Lee and England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff.
Among the international field of 144 players, past winners Inbee Park (2015) and Georgia Hall (2018) posted rounds of 69 and 70 respectively. Defending champion Anna Nordqvist finished on three-over-par after a 74.
The AIG Women’s Open is proudly supported by VisitScotland.
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Hinako Shibuno, Japan (-6)
“It has been a long time since I’ve played this well, especially putting. Honestly it was a little frightening. I was thinking about it (the leaderboard) from time to time. It was nostalgic to be on the top.
“Two years ago, when we were playing at Royal Troon, the wind completely overtook my shots. I wasn’t thinking about how to use this to my advantage. However, in this tournament I could adapt my style to the elements.”
Jessica Korda, USA (-5)
“I am not even looking at the leaderboard. There’s so much going on on the golf course with the crosswinds, trying to figure out where you want to land the ball.
“It’s nice, at the end I looked at the leaderboard, but to be honest I was zoned in to what was going on. You have to stay on it here at all times. It’s links golf. It’s really fun. Every time we come to Scotland, it’s like this. You’ve just got to be really prepared and take it for what it is.”
Louise Duncan, Scotland (-4)
“It was worth the 4.30am alarm. I played well. I’ve kind of been struggling with the driver recently. I got a new head in it and that seems to have sorted the lefts and the rights.
“Overall, I’m really happy with my game. I hit loads of greens and great putts and I stayed patient as well which led to holing the putt on 17. So yeah, it was a good day.
“I didn’t take it too seriously this morning. I just went out and enjoyed myself. Catriona’s really inspiring to all the Scottish girls rising through the ranks, so it was really good to play with her. It was just quite calming.”
Gaby Lopez, Mexico (-4)
“I’ve been struggling with my driver and the tee shots. Being able to finally get that work to pay off, it’s kind of nice. In the windy conditions, I mean, they just bring more focus to the game and to every single shot. The conditions are tough when it’s blowing 20, 30 miles per hour.
“Being able to embrace these conditions as much as you can and being able to come with a positive attitude, even if it’s blowing and cold, is important. It’s going to be tough for everyone and we’ve got to be just okay with that.”