Dec 12th, 2020
Shibuno leads her maiden U.S. Open
'Smiling Cinderella' eyes up another major victory
Photography: USGA/Chris Keane/Robert Beck/Jeff Haynes
Last summer in her first tournament outside of her native Japan, Shibuno captured the AIG Women’s British Open at Woburn by one stroke, carding four rounds in the 60s. That earned the 22-year-old an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open, where she’s making the most of her inaugural foray into the oldest women’s major championship.
Shibuno posted a four-under-par 67 on the Jackrabbit Course at Champions on Friday for a three-shot lead over amateur Linn Grant of Sweden. She opened play with a 68 on Cypress Creek.
Grant, who played Jackrabbit on Friday, became just the second amateur in championship history to open with consecutive rounds in the 60s (69-69), joining 2017 runner-up Hye-Jin Choi.
First-round leader Amy Olson fired a 72 on Jackrabbit and is in a tie for third place at 3-under 139 with University of Texas All-American Kaitlyn Papp and Megan Khang, who like Olson is still seeking her first professional win.
Lurking five back are a trio of players with major titles to their résumés: Cristie Kerr, Ariya Jutanugarn and hometown favorite Stacy Lewis. Sei Young Kim, who won this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko, herself a two-time major winner, sit six back.
Due to weather concerns – the players experienced a few raindrops during the day – starting times for Round 2 were moved up 80 minutes. Fortunately, the precipitation never got too heavy nor was there any lightning, and all 155 players (Mi Jung Hur withdrew on Thursday) completed 36 holes.
Shibuno became the second consecutive Japanese player making her U.S. Women’s Open debut to lead at the midway juncture. Mamiko Higa did it in 2019 at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.) before tying for fifth, three back of champion Jeongeun Lee6.
From a major perspective, 2020 has been a bit of disappointment so far for Shibuno. She missed the cut in her title defense at the Women’s British Open in August at Royal Troon, then tied for 51st and 58th in her debuts at the ANA Inspiration and KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, respectively.
Shibuno’s three other 2020 LPGA Tour starts – she regularly competes on the LPGA Tour of Japan – have also been disappointing. She has a missed cut (Ladies Scottish Open), a tie for 24th (Cambia Portland Classic) and a tie for 27th (ShopRite Classic).
Shibuno, who charmed fans at Woburn with her ebullient personality and dashing performance, registered six birdies against two bogeys. She followed a disappointing three-putt bogey on 16 with a birdie on the par-4 17th before closing with a par.
Her goal now is to become the third player since 2000 to win the title with at least a three-stroke lead going into the final 36 holes (Karrie Webb in 2001 and Michelle Wie in 2014).
Two years ago at Shoal Creek, Sarah Jane Smith held a three-stroke advantage over the field through 36 holes and finished tied for fifth. Also in the mix that year was Grant. Now a sophomore at Arizona State, Grant sat four strokes behind Smith at the midway point before it all unraveled on Saturday when she shot 78 and then closed with an 81 to finish T-57. She’s hoping that will be a lesson well learned.
“I mean, that third round, that was probably the worst thing that could happen,” said the 21-year-old Grant, who registered four birdies against two bogeys on Friday. “So I feel like I can do better this time for sure.”