WOBURN: Hinako Shibuno, known as the ‘Smiling Cinderella’, is on the brink of a fairytale ending in her first Major after a brilliant 67 on Saturday gave her the lead going into the final round of the Women’s British Open.
Five shots behind playing partner and halfway leader, Ashleigh Buhai, after seven holes on day three, the 20-year-old Japanese golfer – playing outside Japan for the first time – went on a blistering run to finish on 14 under 202.
She birdied six holes on a back nine of 30 to move two shots clear of the field with 18 holes to play.
By contrast, South African Buhai stumbled badly on the back nine, dropping shots at the 12th, 13th and 16th and had to settle for a 72 and second place on 12 under.
But two South Koreans are ready to pounce.
Park Sung-hyun, the world No 2, slipped effortlessly into third place on 11 under after a 68 and Ko Jin-young, aiming for back-to-back Majors after last Sunday’s success at the Evian Championship, was another shot back after also posting a 68.
“It was a very good round,” said Park, a two-time Major winner.
“I really do want to win a major this year, so I got a little greedy and missed some birdies.
“Tomorrow (Sunday) I just have to stay patient and take my chances.”
Ko, the new World No 1, was delighted.
“I had a really great round,” she said.
“I’m now really looking forward to Sunday.
“I’m going home to Korea next week, so it would be nice to go home with the trophy.”
‘Nerves don’t match anything’
Shibuno lived up to her nickname as she certainly had plenty to grin about at Woburn.
She said her only goal this week was to make the cut – but now she can dream of becoming a Major champion.
“I’m definitely exceeding my expectations,” she said.
“I think I am doing something incredible.”
But she has already shown she is a huge talent.
She won the World Ladies’ Championship (a Japan Tour Major) in May and added a second title in her home country last month.
“But the nerves don’t match anything like this,” she added through an interpreter.
“I came to the British Open thinking it would be a links course.
“But it’s parkland, just like Japan so I think that has helped.”
For Buhai, who opened the week with a 65, it was a disappointing dip in form.
A three-putt bogey at the 12th set her on the downward spiral and then she took three from the edge at both the 13th and 16th.
At the short 14th she did well to make par from a bunker.
Charley Hull, the local favourite, just about stayed in touch with a back nine of 32 and a round of 70 for nine under.
“I didn’t play too badly on the front nine, but then really got it going,” said the 23-year-old.
“It’s nice to be going into the final day in contention.
“I have so many people out here supporting me and I am pleased I could play well for them.”
It was a disappointing Saturday for England’s defending champion, Georgia Hall.
She shot a 74 and finished ten shots off the lead on four under.