Former champion Hinako Shibuno produced a “frightening” display of putting to claim a narrow lead in the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield.
Shibuno, who won her maiden major title at Woburn in 2019, made a flying start with birdies on the first three holes and went on to card eight in total in an opening six-under-par 65 in the £6million event.
That gave the 23-year-old from Japan a one-shot lead over American Jessica Korda, with Scotland’s Louise Duncan and Mexico’s Gabby Lopez another stroke back following a 67.
“It has been a long time since I’ve played this well, especially putting. Honestly it was a little frightening,” Shibuno said through an interpreter.
“I haven’t changed much. My caddie told me that my body balance was off when I was missing putts. Once I focused on this, I could play much better.
“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, for 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.”
Korda recovered from an early bogey to record four birdies and an eagle on the 17th, despite having to play in borrowed clothes as her luggage had failed to arrive.
“If anyone knows anyone at the Zurich airport that would like to put my suitcase on the one flight a day that they have coming into Edinburgh, I’d deeply appreciate it,” the world number 14 said.
“I know where it is, I have an air tag on it. I can’t get anyone to actually go get it.
“Monday I wore Megan Khang’s pants. Tuesday, I wore my sister’s pants and Wednesday I wore Alison Lee’s pants. Today I’m wearing FootJoy pants.”
Playing in the first group at 6.30am alongside former champion and local resident Catriona Matthew, Duncan recorded an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys to match her score from the opening round at Carnoustie 12 months ago, when she finished 10th while still an amateur.
“It was worth the 4.30 alarm,” said the 22-year-old, who turned professional in July and missed the cut in her first event in the paid ranks last week. “I wouldn’t be happy if it wasn’t worth it.
“I’m just really happy overall with my game. I hit loads of greens, lots of great putts. I stayed patient as well which led to holing a putt (for eagle) on 17.
“I think the key is I didn’t take it too seriously. I just went out and enjoyed my warm-up, had a wee chat with Dean (Robertson, her coach and caddie).
“I haven’t had a paycheck and still feel like I’m an amateur. Yeah, I’m rolling with the punches and we’ll see where it takes me.”
Two-time Solheim Cup captain Matthew struggled to a five-over-par 76, making double bogeys on the first and 10th and failing to make a single birdie.
“Being the first women’s pro event to be played here, it’s great, and me being local it was a huge honour to hit the first tee shot,” said Matthew, who lives in nearby North Berwick.
“Apart from the two doubles I actually played quite well. It’s a little frustrating. Louise played great though. Great round from her. She kept it very steady, didn’t get into any trouble and took advantage of the par fives.”
England’s Georgia Hall, who won the title at Royal Lytham in 2018, lies five shots off the pace following an opening 70, with compatriot Charley Hull and Ireland’s Leona Maguire on level par.
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