When Hinako Shibuno won the AIG Women’s Open in 2019 at Woburn, she was paired in the final group with Ashleigh Buhai. That day, Shibuno closed in 4-under 68, two shots better than Buhai, to end up a stroke clear of runner-up Lizette Salas and four ahead of Buhai, who finished solo fifth.
This Sunday at Muirfield, Shibuno again finds herself in a Women’s Open final pairing with Buhai, though this time Shibuno will need to best Buhai by three times what she did on the final day three years ago if she wants to lift the trophy for a second time.
Buhai leads the second-place Shibuno (In Gee Chun, the 36-hole leader, is also tied for second) by a whopping five shots.
“If I can play tomorrow with her, I would be very happy about it,” Shibuno said shooting 5-under 66 Saturday while Buhai was still out on the golf course. “But I want to win.”
Shibuno is nicknamed “Smiling Cinderella,” so it’s no surprise that she summed up her first 54 holes like this: “I'm having fun from the bottom of my heart.”
It’s also not shocking that her key to chasing down Buhai involves making a new friend: in this case, it’s not the South African but the Scottish wind, which will continue to blow in the 20-mph range on Sunday.
“Obviously,” she said, “I just want be friends with that wind.”
We can see the headlines in the U.K. now: Cinderella gets by Buhai with a little help from her friend.