We’ve got 5 big surprises halfway through the U.S. Women’s Open

shibuno

Hinako Shibuno is three shots clear of the field at the U.S. Women's Open.

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Is the U.S. Women’s Open halfway done, or do we have half still to play? It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. But there’s been plenty of exciting action through two days in Houston, including plenty of unexpected names climbing up — and falling down — the leaderboard. Here are our five biggest surprises at the 36-hole mark.

Shibuno’s in front … again?!

Hinako Shibuno has proven she’s got major championship credentials — but that doesn’t mean we expected her to take a three-shot lead to the weekend at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Shibuno, you’ll recall, won last year’s AIG Women’s British Open in her first-ever LPGA Tour start, capturing the hearts and minds of golf fans around the world and earning the moniker “Smiling Cinderella.” She still sits No. 16 in the world in the Rolex Rankings, but the Japanese 22-year-old hasn’t contended much on the LPGA since that victory. She missed the cut in her title defense this summer and failed to crack the top 20 in her four subsequent LPGA starts.

But Shibuno is clearly feeling it in Houston this week. After a four-birdie, one-bogey 68 on Thursday, she took on the Jackrabbit course on Friday and outdid herself, logging six more birdies in a four-under 67 that has her three shots clear of the competition.

There’s plenty of golf left to play, obviously. Nobody’s etching her name on the championship trophy. But she wouldn’t trade spaces with any other golfer in the field, either.

It’s Amateur Hour!

In this case, that’s a good thing. Linn Grant is a star golfer at Arizona State; she’s also in solo second place at the biggest professional major in her sport.

“I’m still an amateur, and I haven’t played a lot of tournaments, but I definitely think that my game is good enough to play on the LPGA,” she said after her round. Yeah, we’d tend to agree.

Another amateur, Kaitlyn Papp, sits one shot back and in a share of third. The University of Texas senior looks plenty comfortable on the big stage, too, after carding the low round of the day, a 68, on the Cypress Creek course.

Really, it’s an amateur bonanza at Champions. Swedish am Ingrid Lindblad is T14, at one under. Fellow Swede Maja Stark is T20, at even par. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s three Swedish amateurs inside the top 20.

Pauline Roussin-Bouchard of France is T20 as well, and Gabi Ruffels is T29. In all, six of the 24 amateurs in the field are advancing to the weekend, each of them within eight shots of the lead.

There’s an injured contender

I didn’t have “three Swedish ams inside the top 20” on my bingo card, but another contender is even more likely. That’s because Cristie Kerr, who dislocated three ribs in a golf cart accident less than a week ago, sits T6 at two-under par.

Kerr is as surprised as anybody to be on the first page of the leaderboard; early in the week, she was uncertain she’d even play. But on Friday, she shot a bogey-free, two-under 69 on Cypress Creek, a testament to her ability to grind out a round under unique circumstances.

“I’m doing cryotherapy every day, I’m doing LED treatments, I’m icing constantly. I don’t have any fractures, but it takes time for ribs and intercostals to heal, and I dislocated several ribs. So that should tell you how much pain I’m in,” she said after the round.

That’s more dislocated ribs (three) than bogeys (two) through two rounds, for the record.

Cristie Kerr is in contention at the U.S. Women’s Open.

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We’re saying unexpected goodbyes

It can’t be everybody’s week, and we’re bidding farewell to some of the game’s very biggest names after several top women finished outside the cut line, which finished at three over. Maria Fassi (+15) played her way out of it with an opening 83. Angela Stanford (+12) couldn’t keep the magic going after winning last week. Top Brits Georgia Hall (+7) and Mel Reid (+7) will miss the weekend, as will the big-hitting Bianca Pagdanganan (+5) and Anne van Dam (+4).

Perhaps the biggest names to miss the cut were Americans Lexi Thompson (+5) and Nelly Korda (+4), who managed just five combined birdies playing from the same group. Good news for all: It’s already December, so the next major is closer than usual!

They’re going low!

The U.S. Women’s Open is a notably challenging test, and while this week is no exception — see the previous section for evidence — the leaderboard is actually quite bunched. Twenty-eight players are at even par or better, and the gap from Linn Grant (second place, four under) to Brooke Henderson (T47, three over) is just seven shots. If Shibuno comes back to the field, this tournament quickly becomes anybody’s to win.

For weekend viewers, that’s a good thing.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com, The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a 2014 graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.