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'Smiling Cinderella' Hinako Shibuno wins Women's British Open

Kyodo, AP

Hinako Shibuno, a rookie on the LPGA of Japan Tour, captured the Women’s British Open title on Sunday, becoming just the second Japanese golfer to win an overseas major and the first in 42 years.

The 20-year-old shot a 68 in the final round of her first tournament outside Japan to finish at 18-under 270 for a one-stroke victory over American Lizette Salas.

“I’m so happy that I’m speechless,” Shibuno said. “I’m hungry, I feel nauseous. I think I did something great but it hasn’t sunk in yet.”

She joins Hisako Higuchi, winner of the 1977 LPGA Championship, as the only Japanese to win a major on either the PGA or LPGA tours — a feat neither 17-time LPGA winner Ayako Okamoto nor former world No. 1 Ai Miyazato were able to accomplish.

“An unselfish victory down the wire. I’m so happy I finally got to see a Japanese win a major,” said Higuchi, now an LPGA adviser.

Shibuno also became the 11th Japanese woman to win on the LPGA Tour and first since Nasa Hataoka claimed the Kia Classic in March. Hataoka sent her congratulations on Instagram.

“Super congratulations, Hinako. That was awesome,” wrote Hataoka, who was eliminated in a playoff at last year’s Women’s PGA Championship.

Largely unknown before the championship, Shibuno — nicknamed “Smiling Cinderella” — started Sunday with a two-stroke lead but lost it with a double bogey on the par-4 third hole. She bounced back with birdies on Nos. 5 and 7 before a bogey on the eighth at Woburn Golf Club.

But Shibuno excelled on the back nine in three of the four rounds. She did it in 31 on Sunday — and just 30 on Thursday and Saturday.

“Now that I’ve won, I think a lot of the Japanese people will know me, but in actuality, I just wanted to live a quiet life,” Shibuno said.

“I was looking online and I did see that it’s been 42 years since a Japanese player has last won. I do feel that I have accomplished something great, but I really don’t know the reason why I was able to accomplish it.”

Shibuno said she was able to play through her nerves by employing some positive thinking.

“I was a little nervous on the front nine, but not so much on the back nine,” said the Okayama Prefecture native, who took up golf at 8 years old.

“I was thinking about how I was able to play well, and gradually I got less nervous.”

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