No longer a surprise, Shibuno leads by 3 at US Women's Open

Full Screen
1 / 8

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Hinako Shibuno, of Japan, smiles after putting on the 17th green during the second round of the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament in Houston, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

HOUSTON – Hinako Shibuno can do without the “Cinderella” nickname, just not the smile. That was bright as ever Friday as the Japanese star posted a 4-under 67 and opened a three-shot lead going into the weekend of the U.S. Women's Open.

Shibuno's lone mistake on a damp, soft day at Champions Golf Club was a three-putt bogey on the par-3 16th at the Jackrabbit course. Her objective was to avoid dropping more shots by being overly aggressive. She wound up with a 10-foot birdie putt to restore her lead over Arizona State sophomore Linn Grant of Sweden.

Shibuno rose to sudden fame in the summer of 2019 when she won the Women's British Open at Woburn, the first major for the 22-year-old and her first time playing outside Japan. She was called the “Smiling Cinderella," a reference to her surprise performance and an engaging smile.

“No pressure whatsoever,” Shibuno said. ”I'm playing a major in the United States, unlike when I was at the British Open, where I feel like I am starting from scratch."

She looked the part of a major champion at the U.S. Women's Open, where the forecast of rain and strong wind never quite materialized. The rain was light and occasional. The wind was little more than a rumor.

Grant made her U.S. Women's Open debut two years ago as an 18-year-old at Shoal Creek and was tied for fourth going into the weekend until closing with rounds of 78-81.

She had a 69 at Jackrabbit and will be in the final group Saturday. They will be joined by another amateur, Texas senior Kaitlyn Papp, who had a 68 at Cypress Creek and was four shots behind.

The USGA used two courses for the first time because the pandemic forced the Women's Open to be postponed six months to December with limited daylight. The final two rounds will be at Cypress Creek, the course that previously hosted a Ryder Cup, U.S. Open and the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour.