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Smiling Cinderella leads the AIG Women’s Open (plus 2 other things to know!)

hinako shibuno smiles

Don’t let the LIV Golf drama dominating the news cycle fool you — there is major championship golf this week. And it’s a rather big one, too.

While you were warming up your morning coffee, the 2022 AIG Women’s Open was just getting started across the pond, and the stakes have never been higher. A record $7.3 million is on the line this week, with $1.095 million going to the winner.

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That’s not to mention the historical significance the week represents. Just five years ago, Muirfield didn’t even welcome women as members at its club. Now, it’s hosting a major championship for the best ladies on the planet. Whoever wins will be breaking through a significant glass ceiling, and will etch their name in the annals of golf history in the process.

Before we can get to the trophy engraving, though, we need to get through 72 holes at Muirfield. Here’s everything you need to know from Round 1 at the AIG Women’s Open.

Smiling Cinderella leads

In the summer of 2019, Hinako Shibuno stole the hearts of the golf world as she won the Women’s Open for her first victory outside of Japan. Her infectious smile and bubbly demeanor (not to mention her sweet swing) endeared her to fans from all over as “Smiling Cinderella” became an overnight sensation.

Three years later, Shibuno is back in the UK looking to once again recreate that magic she harnessed at Woburn Golf Club. So far, so good through 18 holes at Muirfield.

Shibuno fired an opening-round 65 on Thursday, making eight birdies against two bogeys to hold a one-shot lead through 18 holes. She also opened in six under during her 2019 triumph.

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

If she felt uncomfortable on the course, she didn’t show it. Shibuno missed just three greens on the day and needed just 28 putts to get around Muirfield’s tricky green complexes. The round of 65 is her lowest on the LPGA Tour since last May.

“It was nostalgic to be on the top [of the leaderboard],” she said. “I’m always happy to be here.”

No luggage? No problem

Jessica Korda’s week didn’t get off to the start she might’ve hoped. When she arrived in Scotland on Monday, her luggage was nowhere to be found. According to an AirTag in her baggage, the suitcase has been sitting in the Zurich airport ever since.

“If anyone knows anyone at the Zurich airport that would like to put my suitcase on the one flight a day that they have coming into Edinburgh, I’d deeply appreciate it,” Korda said.

Luckily for her, the lost baggage was not a bad omen from the week.

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Wearing borrowed clothing for the fourth-straight day, Korda opened with a 66 on Thursday, playing her final 16 holes in bogey-free fashion to sit in solo second through 18 holes. After bogeying the 2nd hole to fall to one over, Korda played her final 16 holes in six under, making four birdies and an eagle to post five under by day’s end.

“It’s really fun,” Korda said. “Really stressful. Definitely would like to not have to put a score together but it’s fun to be able to hit different shots.”

Korda, the older sister of world No. 3 Nelly, is still searching for the first major victory of her career. She owns nine career major top 10s — including two this season — as she looks to join the ranks of major winners in her family tree.

If she can put together three more rounds like the one she played today, there might just be another big-time trophy on the Korda-family mantle.

Minjee stays hot

No one in the women’s game has been as good over the past year as Minjee Lee. With two major wins (plus two more top 5s) and a win at the LPGA Founders Cup, Lee has cemented herself as one of the top players in the game over the last 12 months.

On Thursday, Lee continued her stellar run. The world No. 2 made four birdies and one bogey in blustery conditions during her opening round, posting a three-under 68 to sit T5 after 18 holes.

“Because it is so windy, I think it is easier to take one shot at a time,” she said. “I think if it was like maybe a little bit easier conditions, then maybe you could get ahead of yourself or have different thoughts here and there. But I feel like I was quite committed on every shot that I hit because it was so windy, and I just think I did that really well today.”

Lee’s 69 is her ninth round in the 60s during a major championship this season as she looks to become the first player since Jin Young Ko in 2019 to win multiple majors in the same season.

“[I’m going to] just have a good rest,” Lee said. “It’s quite tiring in the wind, so have a good rest, have a good dinner and come out firing tomorrow.”

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