Hinako Shibuno
Japan's Hinako Shibuno, leader after round one of the co-sanctioned LPGA and LET AIG Women's Open. Image Credit: Supplied

Japan’s Hinako Shibuno fired an opening round of 65 (-6) at Muirfield and holds a one-shot lead at the AIG Women’s Open. The R & A announced, earlier this week an increase in prizefund to $7.3 million, a 26 per cent increase on 2021.

The 23 year-old made headlines back in 2019 when she won this Championship at Woburn in her first event outside of Japan, and she has started the week brightly.

Shibuno, who has the nickname of the ‘Smiling Cinderella’, got off to a quick start with three birdies in a row before dropping a shot on the fourth. The Japanese star rolled in birdies on the fifth and ninth holes to make the turn in 32 (-4) before making three more birdies and one bogey on her back nine for a round of six-under-par.

Little frightening

“It has been a long time since I’ve played this well, especially putting,” said Shibuno. “Honestly, it was a little frightening!

“Two years ago, when we were playing at the Royal Troon, the wind completely over took my shots. I wasn’t thinking about how to use this to my advantage. However, at this tournament I could adapt my style to the elements. It was nostalgic to be on the top.”

One shot behind the leader is American Jessica Korda, who sits alone in second place on five under par at Muirfield. The 29-year-old dropped a shot on the second but soon made up for it with birdies on holes three, five and nine.

A further birdie on 12 saw the US Solheim Cup star climb the leaderboard before an excellent eagle at 17 put her in prime position. Scotland’s Louise Duncan and Mexico’s Gaby Lopez share third place on four-under-par with Lopez having a bogey-free day.

While Duncan, who won the Smyth Salver in 2021 at Carnoustie, had an up and down round with two bogeys, four birdies and an eagle for her 67. Five players are in a tie for fifth place on three-under-par after 18 holes including 2022 Race to Costa del Sol leader Maja Stark, France’s Celine Boutier and England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff.

Three players round out the top 10 with Japan’s Miyuu Yamashita and Korean pair Inbee Park and Hye-Jin Choi on two-under-par.