Woburn (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Japan’s Hinako Shibuno hit a gutsy 18-foot birdie putt at the final hole to win a thrilling Women’s British Open at Woburn on Sunday, completing a fairytale story for a player nicknamed the “Smiling Cinderella”.
The 20-year-old, playing in her first Major, shot 68 for 18-under-par to win by a single stroke from American Lizette Salas.
World number one Ko Jin-young, who was seeking a third Major title of the year, had to settle for third place following a 66.
Shibuno, who had never played a professional event outside Japan before this week, became the second Japanese player to win a Major championship, joining Chako Higuchi, who won the 1977 Women’s PGA Championship.
No male Japanese player has won a Major.
Speaking in slightly faltering English, she said she was proud of her achievement.
“What I have done is unbelievable,” she said. “I imagined the British Open was played on a links course. But when I arrived I was surprised to find it was trees, just like Japan.
“That definitely helped. Today I was nervous on the front nine but felt OK on the back nine and just started making birdies.”.
Two ahead at the start of the final round, Shibuno survived the potential blow of a four-putt double-bogey at the third to bounce back and collect the $675,000 first prize.
It was a packed leaderboard all day, with Salas and South Korea’s Ko battling with Shibuno for the coveted trophy, the final Major of the season.
Salas had eight birdies in a 65 to post a score of 17 under par, one ahead of playing partner Ko, who finished with a 66.
Salas had a real chance of birdie at the last, but her effort from eight feet hit the hole and stayed out.
She went to the practice range hoping for at least a play-off. But Shibuno had other ideas. Golf’s newest superstar, beaming as ever, hit her second shot to 18 feet at the last before stepping up to bomb home the putt.
All the way round, she had been amazingly relaxed, high-fiving with members of the crowd and smiling all the way to the final green.
Atthaya Thitikul, at just 16, retained the Smyth Salver for the best amateur. The Thai teenager closed with a 73 for four under par.