On August 4, 2019, Hinako Shibuno and Ashleigh Buhai started the day in the final pairing of the AIG Women’s Open, with Shibuno holding the 54-hole lead at -14 and Buhai two shots back. Shibuno would go on to win her first title on the LPGA Tour, and her first victory outside of her native Japan, with Buhai showing grace and sportsmanship all the way through the final putt drop. Buhai’s tie for fifth would become, and still is, her best finish in any major championship, her lone top 10 in 43 major starts.
Now in 2022, Shibuno and Buhai are once again back together in the final grouping for the fourth round of the major. This time, it’s the South African Buhai who leads the championship at -14, just as Shibuno did three years prior. It’s a remarkable repeat not lost on anyone, including the 22-year-old Shibuno. And though Buhai holds a five-stroke lead, the “Smiling Cinderella” is still aiming to add another AIG Women’s Open trophy to her collection.
“Well, if I can play tomorrow with her, I would be very happy about it,” said Shibuno, “But I want to win.”
After starting Saturday in a tie for seventh, Shibuno played her way into the final grouping thanks to a 5-under 66. After a bogey and two birdies on her front nine, Shibuno’s game clicked after the turn, making two birdies back-to-back at Nos. 10 and 11, and notching two more on 14 and 17 by day’s end. As wind gusts reached up to 30 mph, Shibuno held her own against the conditions, and she looks forward to carry her third-round success into the last day at Muirfield.
“I could be friends with the wind,” said Shibuno. “I'm having fun from the bottom of my heart.”