“Smiling Cinderella” Hinako Shibuno caps fairy tale victory at Women’s British Open

Japan’s Hinako Shibuno, making her LPGA major championship debut, birdies the 18th to win the Women’s British Open

Hinako Shibuno, the 20-year-old whose infectious smile captured the hearts of golf fans at Woburn Golf Club this week, wasn’t supposed to be here.

She had never played in an LPGA Tour event before this week, let alone a major championship. She had never even played a professional tournament outside of her native Japan. But sometimes in golf, fairy tales do come true, and Shibuno, 250/1 to win at the start of the week, is the newest Women’s British Open champion.

If there’s one thing that stood out about Shibuno this week, it’s the smile she constantly wears on her face. She earned the nickname “Smiling Cinderella,” and through three rounds at Woburn, she had plenty to be happy about. Shibuno took a two-shot lead into Sunday’s final round, hoping to pull off the victory that seemed so improbable a few days before.

Even when she four-putted for double bogey on the third hole on Sunday, Shibuno was still smiling and seemingly without any worry. One-over on the front-nine, she lost the lead to Lizette Salas, a 30-year-old American making her 38th career major championship appearance but still looking for her first title.

Shibuno, though, was spectacular on the back-nine all week, and Sunday was no different. She holed a putt from the back of the green at the 10th for birdie and also birdied the 12th and 13th holes. She made another birdie putt at the 15th to tie Salas at 17-under for the tournament.

They remained tied heading to the 18th hole. Salas, playing several groups in front of Shibuno, looked to have a big advantage when her approach shot finished five feet short of the flag. Her birdie putt, though, lipped out of the cup for a disappointing par. Shibuno also found the 18th green in two shots, 20 feet away for birdie. Her putt was hit with so much speed it looked like it would race past the hole and leave her a tricky come-backer for par. Instead, the ball hit the back of the cup and dropped in for birdie to win the championship. She made five birdies on the back-nine on Sunday and played that side of the course in 18-under for the week.

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It’s an unlikely victory for the 46th-ranked player in the world. Shibuno is a rookie on the Japan LPGA Tour, where she’s won twice already this season. Fans at Woburn this week didn’t know much about her but came to love her by the time she lifted the trophy. Her smile and high-fives for the gallery left an indelible impression on the tournament. She’s a popular champion, even if she was unknown when she teed up on Thursday.

Shibuno is the first Japanese player to win an LPGA major since 1977. With the Olympics coming to Tokyo next summer, she improved her chances of representing her country on home soil.

Salas had to settle for second-place despite a seven-under round of 65. Jin Young Ko, already a two-time major champion this year including at the Evian Championship last week, finished in third place at 16-under.

But it’s Shibuno who’s taking the trophy back to Japan. Whatever you want to call her, charming or charismatic, she can now also be called a champion.

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