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Déjà vu at the AIG Women’s Open

2019 Winner Hinako Shibuno takes first round lead at Muirfield

 
Shibunoo watches her shot into the green.
Shibuno won over legions of fans in winning the 2019 AIG Women's Open at Woburn

Déjà vu – it is a word introduced into the English language from French, meaning to be experiencing something familiar. And so it was today with our leader Hinako Shibuno. Three years ago the greater golfing world was introduced to Shibuno, a relatively unknown player from Japan competing on the JLPGA. She became known as the “Smiling Cinderella” after her stunning fairy tale victory at Woburn, sinking her putt on the 72nd hole to claim victory. Fast forward to 2022, and the Smiling Cinderella finished the first round at Muirfield with an impressive score of 65 on a windy day on the Scottish coast.

Playing in a morning group with Inbee Park and Jennifer Kupcho, Shibuno finished her round today with an impressive 8-birdies against 2-bogeys to take the early lead – a lead that stood up for the remainder of the day. She came off the first tee box in blistering form, rolling off three straight birdies to get to -3 under after three holes. A bogey on the par-3, 4th brought her back to -2, but she rebounded wonderfully on the next hole – the 512 yard par-5, 5th. She finished her first nine with another birdie on another par 5; the 556 yard, 9th hole to go out in 32 (-4 under).

Hinako Shibuno shares a smile after watching her putt go in the hole
Shibuno was all smiles today making 8-birdies on the day.

Her second nine was equally impressive, with birdies on the par-4 taking her to -5 under. She would drop a shot on the par-4, 14th with a bogey, but again she rebounded brilliantly. After a par on the 15th hole, she birdied the 178 yard, par-3 16th hole – one of the more difficult par-3s. She followed it up by taking advantage of the last par-5 on the course, the 17th which was playing at 544 yards today. Playing like a Scottish pro, she took advantage of the conditions and birdied the par-5 to take her score to -6 under. A routine par on the 18th gave her the early lead.

Her good play was a welcome development for Shibuno, coming in a season where she hasn’t contended as often as expected. “It has been a long time since I’ve played this well, especially putting. Honestly, it was a little frightening”, before sharing that her caddie helped her work on her set up with putting. “My famous caddie told me that my body balance was off when I was missing putts. He told me that my body balance was slightly off. Once I focussed on this, I could play much better.”

Playing an Open Championship in Scotland means being able to contend not only with the course and the challenges that it presents, but also with the weather and today was no different. Championships have seen windier days than today, regardless, there was more than enough breeze coming off the Firth of Forth to create difficult playing conditions. Having won at Woburn, which was not a links course, Muirfield would be a test of Shibuno’s game – and she passed today’s test, playing with a style that suggested that she was right at home on the links.

“Two years ago, when we were playing at the Royal Troon, the wind completely overtook my shots. I wasn’t thinking about how to use this to my advantage. However, this tournament I could adapt my style to the elements. I imagined my swing, if the wind was coming from the right, I could play by feel – how far from the pin I needed to aim for.”


Louise Duncan – share of 3rd place / 67 (– 4 under)

The sense of familiarity did not end with Shibuno as Louise Duncan, the Scottish amateur turned professional, was near the top of the leaderboard at the AIG Women’s Open again. Last year at Carnoustie, Duncan finished in the top-10, winning the top amateur award for her stellar play. Today, she played in the very first group to start the tournament, alongside fellow Scot Catriona Matthew, who was designated to play the first shot of the event. After all was said and done, Duncan posted a score of 67 ( – 4 under) which made her the early leader until Shibuno finished her round. Nonetheless, Duncan would finish the day with a share of 3rd place along with Gaby Lopez.

Louise Duncan watches her putt at the AIG Women's Open.
Louise Duncan credits a good day of putting as a key to her round of 67.

Duncan relied on strong driving and timely putting to fashion a good round of golf, including 5-birdies and an eagle to offset her back to back bogeys on the par 4, 6th and the par 3, 7th holes. “I’ve kind of been struggling with the driver recently. I got a new head in it and that seemed to have sorted the lefts and the rights. (I’m) happy with driver. Just overall really happy with my game. Hit loads of greens. I hit loads of great putts and I stayed patient as well which led to holing a putt on 17. So yeah, it was a good day,” said Duncan.

While she competed last year as an amateur in Carnoustie, Duncan opted to turn professional last week, accepting an invitation into the Trust Golf Scottish Women’s Open. Despite her penchant for playing on Scottish courses, Duncan wasn’t able to put together two solid rounds, missing the cut altogether, though she felt the result was not indicative of her overall play.

“Yeah, obviously I was a wee bit disappointed to miss the cut and really not do that well. But I actually played all right. The score just didn’t reflect it. So yeah, I was a wee bit disappointed but I’m glad that was my first week as a pro and not this week.”

She would go on to say that her decision to become a professional does bring some occupational hazards, particularly regarding the fact that in professional golf players fail far more often than they succeed.

“It’s quite annoying. That’s something you need to get your head around. I’m very guilty of just getting angry at poor shots but they are always going to happen and I kind of tried to keep telling myself that I am going to hit bad shots. Everyone does. Just matters about the next one, try to get it in the hole as quick as possible.”

Duncan will be playing in the same group tomorrow, alongside Catriona Matthew and Sophia Schubert, the runner up at the Amundi Evian Championship two weeks ago. They will start the afternoon wave of players, teeing off at 11:10 am. Hinako Shibuno will also be in the afternoon wave of players in match 31 alongside Inbee Park and Jennifer Kupcho at 12:16 pm.

 

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