Aug 4th, 2019
Smiling Cinderella steals hearts and title
Shibonu holes on 18 to see off Salas
Words: GolfPunk Photography: Getty Images
As majors go, the AIG Women’s British Open was a classic. Hinako Shibuno, the 20 year old Japanese rookie, who had never set foot in a tournament outside of her home country holed, in some style we might add, a 20ft putt on the 18th to secure the title. Just moments before Lizette Salas had missed a much shorter chance in front of an amazing crowd. You couldn’t make it up if you wanted to and it capped a special week at Woburn which saw some great golf in a beautiful setting.
The Women’s British Open has been an impressive event containing some mesmerising golf which resulted in very congested leaderboard going into the final round. At one point, during the first nine on the final day, there was a five-way tie for the lead .
Shibuno, who had wowed the crowds on Saturday with her golf as well as her thousand-megawatt smile, looked to have faltered when she four putted the third hole for a double bogey, the smile briefly vanishing.
This left Shibuno trailing Lizette Salas from the USA who was on a charge, birdieing three of the first four holes and exhibiting some deft touches around the greens. Salas too has somewhat of a Cinderella story, given that her dad used to trade odd jobs for golf lessons and drive her all over the country at the start of her career. As Salas came down the last a tournament leading 64 was in her sights. All looked to be going to plan as she hit her approach to six feet.
The putt agonisingly ran around the lip but did not drop. You could see in the American’s face that she believed she had missed her opportunity to bag a major. After signing for a seven under 65 and a final total of seventeen under par, it was off to the practice area as a play off was still very much on the cards.
Shibuno, also on seventeen under, was enjoying herself. She marched from the 17th green to the 18th tee, high fiving everyone in the crowd and smiling widely before nailing a drive straight down the middle of the fairway
Her speed of play is something that we wholeheartedly commend and something other players coule take a lesson from. The dimunitive Japanese waited patiently in the middle of the 18th as Morgan Pressel failed to get up and down from a bunker and Sung Hyun Park, never a quick player at the best of times, three puttied for a bogey five.
However, nothing was phasing our Cinderella in the slightest. Joking around with her coach who was on her bag and eating sweets she simply waited whilst Pressel’s caddy carefully raked the bunker (for which he got a rapturous round of applause), approached the ball and hit it straight onto the dancefloor leaving a makeable but difficult 20 footer for birdie.
Again, with the absolute minimum of fuss Shibuno stepped up and holed the putt for a birdie and a one shot victory over Salas. Perhaps the “Smiling Cinderella” might be better named the “Smiling Assassin” such was the clinical and deadly nature of her play.
"I still feel like I'm going to vomit," Shibuno said moments after victory. "I was more nervous on the front nine, but I was OK on the back nine. I felt like I was going to cry on the 18th but the tears didn't come out."
The focus is rightly on the rookie, but Salas pushed her all the way, as did Evian Championship winner and world number one, Jin Young Ko who carded a six under 66 to end alone in third and who was a constant threat throughout. Morgan Pressel also came close, with a strong back nine that included three birdies and an eagle at the long 11th. Despite a bogey at the last she finished alone in fourth and is starting to show glimpses of the talent that made her the youngest ever player to qualify for the US Open in 2001 at the age of 12.
Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa, who was paired with Shibuno for the final round, performed much better than she could have expected coming in to the event but will rue the fact that at one point on Saturday she led by five shots. Having never previously finished higher than tied 27th in this event she ended up fifth overall after carding a two under par 70. Had one or two putts had a little more on them then she might well have been even closer but she did have the Japanese smiling machine and her impressive group of supporters to contend with.
Sadly, the British contingent fell away over the course of the final round. Defending Champion Georgia Hall struggled all day and with a bogey on the fifth and a double-bogey on the 10th she ended with a one over 73 and sadly out of contention at 35th.
Bronte Law carded a disappointing 78. Having not had a bogey all week Law sadly managed to store them all up for this difficult final round, which included seven bogeys and a terrible missed short put on the 18th. That putt kind of summed up her day. Once again Law’s putter never really got going and her last round cruelly left her tied with Georgia Hall. Hopefully she will still have done enough to secure her Solheim Cup place.
Charley Hull was also a victim of the final round curse of the Brits, carding a final round 76. Her round was all but over following a bogey on the 1st and a double bogey on the 7th. If anything, she looked to be trying too hard on her home patch and after three solid rounds will be left feeling disappointed, tied 24th, given what might have been and her strong position going into the final day.
For final leaderboard click here.
And another thing...