(Reuters) – ‘Smiling Cinderella’ Hinako Shibuno completed a fairytale week by winning the Women’s British Open in her first LPGA event at Milton Keynes on Sunday.
The 20-year-old Japanese rank outsider, who earned her nickname because of her radiant smile, rammed home a lengthy birdie putt of just under 20 feet at the final hole to edge out American Lizette Salas by one stroke.
Playing outside Japan for the first time as well as in her first major, Shibuno reacted with glee and astonishment, covering her mouth with her hand after the winning putt rattled in at Woburn for a closing four-under-par 68.
She finished on 18-under 270 to become the second Japanese woman to win a major, after Hisako “Chako” Higuchi in 1977.
Salas, two behind overnight, caught Shibuno on the front nine and thought she had done enough with a seven-under 65 final round.
But Shibuno, ranked 559 in the world at the start of the year, found five birdies on the way home.
“I still feel like I’m going to vomit,” Shibuno said moments after her victory.
“I was more nervous on the front nine but I was OK on the back nine. I felt like I was going to cry on the 18th but the tears didn’t come out.”
Shibuno, who started the day with a two-shot lead, double-bogeyed the third hole, which perhaps was a blessing in disguise in that it relieved the pressure of being the frontrunner.
“I don’t think many people, including me, like to be in a situation where you’re leading,” she said.
“I feel like it’s better to be behind than leading. That was true today and I was able to play easier when I was in that position.
“I was looking at the board all the time, and knew my position, where I stood in the tournament. That was also true before the putt on the 18th and I was also thinking about if I were to make this putt, how I was going to celebrate.”
Runner-up Salas rued a five-foot birdie putt at the final hole that lipped out.
“I’m not going to lie, I was nervous,” she said. “I haven’t been in that position in a long time. I gave it a good stroke. I controlled all my thoughts. It just didn’t drop, so congrats to our winner.”
South Korean Ko Jin-young (66) finished two shots behind in third place, completing a magnificent major campaign that included victories at the ANA Inspiration in April and last week’s Evian Championship.
“I had a little pressure, but I like that pressure,” world number one Ko said.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Greensboro, North Carolina; Additiona reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Tony Lawrence and Pritha Sarkar)