Hinako Shibuno gains a three-stroke lead in the US Women’s Open

On her debut at the US Women's Open, Japanese star Hinako Shibuno stormed into the lead with a 67 on Friday. Lynn Grant shot 69 to move into second

Hinako Shibuno - Robert Beck - USGA

Maybe this whole “experience” thing is a bit overrated. This week at Champions Golf Club, Hinako Shibuno is doing her part to debunk that major-championship theory.

Last summer in her first tournament outside of her native Japan, Shibuno captured the AIG Women’s British Open at Woburn by one stroke, carding four rounds in the 60s. That earned the 22-year-old an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open, where she’s making the most of her inaugural foray into the oldest women’s major championship.

Shibuno posted a 4-under-par 67 on the Jackrabbit Course at Champions on Friday for a three-shot lead over amateur Linn Grant of Sweden. She opened play with a 68 on Cypress Creek.

Grant, who played Jackrabbit on Friday, became just the second amateur in championship history to begin with consecutive rounds in the 60s (69-69), joining 2017 runner-up Hye-Jin Choi.

First-round leader Amy Olson fired a 72 on Jackrabbit and is in a tie for third place at 3-under 139 with University of Texas All-American Kaitlyn Papp and Megan Khang, who like Olson is still seeking her first professional win.

Lurking five back are a trio of players with major titles to their résumés: Cristie Kerr, Ariya Jutanugarn and hometown favorite Stacy Lewis. Sei Young Kim, who won this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko, herself a two-time major winner, sit six back.

Due to weather concerns – the players experienced just a few raindrops during the day – starting times for Round 2 were moved up 80 minutes. Fortunately, the precipitation never got too heavy nor was there any lightning, and all 155 players (Mi Jung Hur withdrew on Thursday) completed 36 holes.

Shibuno became the second consecutive Japanese player making her U.S. Women’s Open debut to lead at the midway juncture. Mamiko Higa did it in 2019 at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.) before tying for fifth, three back of champion Jeongeun Lee6.

From a major perspective, 2020 has been a bit of disappointment so far for Shibuno. She missed the cut in her title defense at the Women’s British Open in August at Royal Troon, then tied for 51st and 58th in her debuts at the ANA Inspiration and KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, respectively. Play Video0:002:39 

Shibuno’s three other 2020 LPGA Tour starts – she regularly competes on the LPGA Tour of Japan – have also been disappointing. She has a missed cut (Ladies Scottish Open), a tie for 24th (Cambia Portland Classic) and a tie for 27th (ShopRite Classic).

Shibuno, who charmed fans at Woburn with her ebullient personality and dashing performance, registered six birdies against two bogeys. She followed a disappointing three-putt bogey on 16 with a birdie on the par-4 17th before closing with a par.

Her goal now is to become the third player since 2000 to win the title with at least a three-stroke lead going into the final 36 holes (Karrie Webb in 2001 and Michelle Wie in 2014).

Two years ago at Shoal Creek, Sarah Jane Smith held a three-stroke advantage over the field through 36 holes and finished tied for fifth. Also in the mix that year was Grant. Now a sophomore at Arizona State, Grant sat four strokes behind Smith at the midway point before it all unraveled on Saturday when she shot 78 and then closed with an 81 to finish T-57. She’s hoping that will be a lesson well learned.

“I mean, that third round, that was probably the worst thing that could happen,” said the 21-year-old Grant, who registered four birdies against two bogeys on Friday. “So I feel like I can do better this time for sure.”

Linn Grant - Robert Beck - USGA
Amateur Linn Grant, of Sweden, will enter Saturday’s third round three strokes behind leader Hinako Shibuno. (Robert Beck/USGA) 

USGA Notes

  • The 36-hole cut came at 3-over 145 with 60 professionals and six amateurs surviving to play the weekend. The final 36 holes will be contested on Cypress Creek with Saturday’s third round featuring threesomes going off the first and 10th tees, beginning at 9:45 a.m. CST.
  • Defending champion Jeongeun Lee6 carded a 2-under 69 on Jackrabbit to make the cut. Four other past champions also will play the weekend: Cristie Kerr (2007), So Yeon Ryu (2011), Ariya Jutanugarn (2018) and Inbee Park (2008, 2013).
  • Notables who failed to make the cut included past U.S. Women’s Open champions Brittany Lang (2016), Eun-Hee Ji (2009), In Gee Chun (2015) and Sung Hyun Park (2017), as well as major winners Morgan Pressel, Lexi Thompson, Angela Stanford and Georgia Hall. Also missing the cut was one of the pre-championship favorites, Nelly Korda.
  • Korda’s older sister, Jessica, did make the cut, along with the other sister combo, Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn, who coincidentally will be paired together on Saturday at 11:02 a.m. CST off the first tee.
  • Maja Stark, who turned 21 on Thursday, became the second amateur in as many days to register an eagle on a par 4. The Oklahoma State standout from Sweden holed out from the fairway of the sixth hole on Cypress Creek. On Thursday, 2019 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Ina Kim-Schaad made the second 2 of the day on the par-4 14th hole of Jackrabbit.
  • Linn Grant, of Sweden, came within three strokes of becoming the first amateur in 42 years to lead the championship after 36 holes. Seven-time USGA champion Carol Semple Thompson shared the lead in 1978 with Nancy Lopez and Donna Horton White at the Country Club of Indianapolis.
  • Grant and Kaitlyn Papp will be the first amateurs to play in the final grouping on a Saturday since Michelle Wie in 2005 at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver, Colo. The last time there were two amateurs among the top 10 through 36 holes was 2014: Minjee Lee and Brooke Henderson.
  • Catherine Lacoste (1967) remains the lone amateur to win the U.S. Women’s Open. This year, three are under par through 36 holes: Grant, 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champion Papp, and Ingrid Lindblad, of Sweden.
  • Reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and world No. 1 Rose Zhang missed the cut by one stroke. Zhang made 33 pars, two bogeys and a double bogey. Also failing to qualify for the weekend were 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Lei Ye and Kim-Schaad. University of Southern California senior Gabriela Ruffels, the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and 2020 runner-up to Zhang, made the cut at 1-over 143.
  • The amateurs who made the cut represent six schools: Texas (Papp), Arizona State (Grant), Louisiana State (Lindblad), University of South Carolina (Pauline Roussin-Bouchard), Oklahoma State (Stark) and Southern California (Ruffels).