Hinako Shibuno bounces back to take lead at Women’s Open

Former champion Hinako Shibuno put on an “intimidating” display by claiming a slight lead at the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield.

Hibuno, who won her first major title at Woburn in 2019, got off to a fast birdie start on the first three holes and hit eight cards in total in the 65-under-par opening game in the £6 million tournament.

This gave the 23-year-old Japanese woman a one-stroke advantage over American Jessica Korda, while Scottish Louise Duncan and Mexican Gabby Lopez pulled back another stroke after 67.

“It’s been a long time since I played so well, especially putting. To be honest, it was a bit intimidating,” Shibuno said through a translator.

“I haven’t changed much. My caddy told me that my body was out of balance when I took hits. Once I focused on that, I could play much better.

“Two years ago, when we played Royal Troon, the wind completely overtook my blows. I didn’t think about how to use it to my advantage.

“However, for this tournament, I was able to adapt my style to the elements. I imagined my swing, if the wind was blowing from the right, I could play, feeling how far from the pins I needed to aim.

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Hinako Shibuno on field 17 on the first day of the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield (Steve Welsh/PA)

Korda recovered from an early scarecrow and recorded four birds and an eagle on the 17th, despite having to play in borrowed clothes as her luggage had not arrived.

“If anyone knows of anyone at Zurich airport who would like to put my suitcase on one flight a day they arrive in Edinburgh, I would be very grateful,” said the world number 14.

“I know where it is, I have an airmark on it. I can’t get anyone to actually go get it.

“I wore Megan Khang pants on Monday. On Tuesday I wore my sister’s trousers and on Wednesday I wore Alison Lee’s trousers. I’m wearing FootJoy pants today.”

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Jessica Korda tees from third during the first round of the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield. (Scott Heppell/AP)

Playing in the first group at 6:30 a.m. alongside former champion and local Katrina Matthew, Duncan recorded an eagle, four birds and two ghosts to equal her Carnousty first round score 12 months ago when she finished 10th, being still an amateur.

“It was worth the 4:30 alarm clock,” said the 22-year-old, who turned pro in July and missed a cut in her first tournament in the paid ranks last week. “I wouldn’t be happy if it wasn’t worth it.

“In general, I am very pleased with my game. I hit a lot of greens, a lot of great shots. I also remained patient, which led to me puttingt (for the eagle) at 17.

“I think the key is that I didn’t take it too seriously. I just went out and enjoyed the warm-up, had a little chat with Dean (Robertson, her trainer and caddy).

“I didn’t have a paycheck and I still feel like an amateur. Yes, I can handle the punches and we’ll see where that takes me.”

Two-time Solheim Cup captain Matthew struggled to score a five-over-par 76, making double ghosts in first and 10th and failing to make a single birdie.

“Being the first women’s professional tournament to be held here is great and it was a huge honor for me as a local to make the first tee shot,” said Matthew, who lives in nearby North Berwick.

“Apart from two doubles, I actually played pretty well. It’s a little frustrating. Although Louise played great. Great round from her. She kept it very stable, didn’t get into any trouble and took advantage of the double fives.”

England’s Georgia Hall, who won the 2018 Royal Lytham title, is five shots behind the pace after the first 70 points, while compatriot Charlie Hull and Ireland’s Leona Maguire are level.