Hinako Shibuno hopes she can befriend the wind on the final day of the AIG Women’s Open as she looks to overturn a five-shot deficit to Ashleigh Buhai.
That is if she has not already conquered the conditions at Muirfield, having shot a superb five-under 66 to end round three tied for second, as Buhai was the only other player in the last 10 groups to shoot below 70.
“I could be friends with the wind,” joked Shibuno, when asked how she fared in trying conditions. “My putting was very good. I was very happy about the 14th birdie.”
That was one of four on the back nine, a remarkable haul with the weather anything but friendly in the afternoon.
She will play her final round alongside overnight leader Buhai, a reunion for the pair three years on from Woburn, where they also formed the final group.
On that occasion, Shibuno boasted a two-shot lead going into the final round. Were the ‘Smiling Cinderella’ to produce a stunning fightback on Sunday she would prove a very popular winner, having lived up to her name on Saturday, willing to acknowledge and engage with the crowd at every opportunity.
“I'm having fun from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “If I can play tomorrow with her (Buhai), I would be very happy about it. But I want to win.”
Shibuno faces a tall order and Buhai has not given any indication that she will relinquish her lead lightly after smashing the record for the lowest score in the middle 36 holes in the Championship’s history.
Asked what her focus is for the final round, Shibuno said: “I just want to be friends with that wind.”
Level with Shibuno on nine-under par is In Gee Chun. Chun started the day ahead of the pack and built on her score with a one-under-par 70 but, like the rest of the field, could not keep pace with the relentless Buhai.
She too felt that the wind was a big factor on day three at the 46th staging of this event, but was generally pleased with her discipline and control.
“It was not easy and it was a bit windy out there,” she said. “I think my game was really good today.
“I had two bogeys but golf is not always easy. I think it was another good experience with the big wind out there.
“I just tried a lot of self-talk on the green. Because with downwind and then into the wind, it makes different speed, the wind keeps changing, especially on a links course. So I just did a lot of self-talk.”
Chun has already claimed one major this season, the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, but is not putting any pressure on herself, and is enjoying her time at such a unique venue.
“I don't have many experience playing the links course,” she said. “But I always have a whole different experience from each and every round. So I think I really enjoy playing golf here.
“I’m just trying to keep focused on my game. Just trying to do my best to stay in the present.
Fellow South Korean and seven-time major winner Inbee Park was left to bemoan a few missed birdie chances leaving her seven shots off the pace.
Inbee witnessed Buhai's brilliance first-hand, and despite finishing one-under for the day, she was frustrated to not break the 70 mark for a third consecutive day.
“The back nine was monstrous today, especially 14 and 15, I couldn't get to the green,” she explained. “It was really tough. It's just really hard on the greens with a lot of wind blowing and just trying to figure out the break, and the wind was just very confusing.
“It was not a good putting day for me out there today. Just missed a lot of opportunities, and then I had a lot of good birdie opportunities; I had a birdie on the front nine but I just couldn't make enough.”
Also at seven-under-par is Madelene Sagstrom. The Swede struggled after the turn, with two bogeys and a damaging double-bogey at the 14th, leaving her in total awe of Buhai’s efforts.
“It got trickier and trickier,” she said. “I was hoping the wind would calm down but I feel like it stayed up and got a little tricky.
“It was difficult but this is what links golf is. This is the weather you have to learn to play. I wish I had played better but I'm really pleased with an even-par round today.”
“I wish I would have played the golf course she (Buhai) played today. I could not see a 7-under out there today. Great job to her, and I think the rest of us are just hoping to find that momentum.”