They call Hinako Shibuno the ‘smiling Cinderella’ and, my goodness, she is having a ball here at Woburn.

In her first appearance in the AIG Women’s British Open – in fact, this is her first golfing event outside of her native Japan – the delightfully cheery 20-year-old leads by two shots with a round to go. If she finishes the job today it will be hard to tell what will gleam the most. The silver trophy handed to the winner or Shibuno’s shimmering beam.

She certainly had plenty to smile about yesterday. And even when things were not going right, she still managed to look joyously upbeat.

One-over at the turn, Shibuno was six shots behind the pacesetting Ashleigh Buhai heading onto the inward half but she produced a quite rousing charge and came home in 30 during a telling thrust which included four birdies on her last five holes.

In stark contrast, Buhai took eight more shots to cover that same stretch as her lead evaporated. Shibuno’s 67 left her with a 14-under aggregate of 202 while Buhai’s 72 left her on the same 12-under mark she had started day three on.

Perhaps it’s not a bad thing the South African doesn’t have the lead going into the closing round. On four occasions on the Ladies European Tour, she has led with 18 holes to play but has failed to convert any of those advantages into tournament wins.

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While Buhai wore the concerned face of a woman who had just opened an extremely disappointing bank statement as her round began to unravel on the run-in, Shibuno’s surge had her grinning like a cat that had just taken charge of the entire dairy let alone the cream.

Adding to a character that’s as colourful as the Dulux paint palette is Shibuno’s ever present manager. Hiroshi Shigematsu could be seen following his client every step of the way from outside the ropes. You couldn’t really miss him.

He was dressed in a black kimono, he had a bright blue novelty wig plonked on his head and he carried a plastic samurai sword in his bag. He was probably lucky he wasn’t escorted off the Woburn premises.

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“It makes her smile when she sees me,” suggested Shigematsu. Shibuno offered her own view of her eccentric manager. “It’s a bit difficult to comment, it’s a bit embarrassing,” she chuckled as if talking about her dad awkwardly dancing at a 21st birthday party.

She did agree, however, that Shigematsu’s quirks and absurdities do have the desired effect. “It does make me smile,” she added.

Shibuno may be something of an unknown in these parts but she’s well-kent back in her homeland and is already a major winner on the Japanese Tour. Victory in the Women’s British Open would be something else, though.

On her journey from the far east to the outskirts of Milton Keynes, Shibuno actually thought she was coming to play a links golf course. A bit of ignorance, it seems, is bliss.

“Because it is the British Open I imagined a links course but this is more like a course I am used to in Japan,” she said of the tree-lined, parkland Marquess course here in leafy Woburn. “I came with the aim of making the cut but this is incredible.”

Buhai, whose lead at the top was five shots at one stage, was making serene progress at two-under through nine holes but the wheels began to shoogle coming home and leaked shots at 12, 13 and 16 saw her overwhelmed by Shibuno’s rampaging assault.

“I hit so many good shots on that front side and I only turned in two-under but I had so many chances,” she said. “It could have been four or five-under. I just got a little rattled on the back nine and lost a bit of composure in my rhythm.”

Korea’s Sung Hyun Park, the two-time major winner, is lurking on 11-under with Morgan Pressel of the USA a further shot back while another Korean, Jin Young Ko, is still in the hunt for more major glory on 10-under.

Ko won the Evian Championship last weekend and the ANA Inspiration in April and has not giving up hope of joining a decorated list of professional players who have won three majors in one season. That roll of honour includes Babe Zaharias, Ben Hogan, Mickey Wright, Pat Bradley, Tiger Woods and Inbee Park.

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The home challenge is led by Bronte Law and Charley Hull on nine-under while the defending champion, Georgia Hall, saw her hopes suffer a damaging blow as she sagged to a 74 to slither back to four-under.

Law, a winner on the LPGA Tour earlier this season, put two birdies onto a card of 70 and has yet to drop a shot in 54-holes

“It would be nice to have a couple more putts go in here and there though,” the former Curtis Cup player said. “I played solid golf all day but left a couple of putts short in the jaws and I couldn’t quite get the speed of the greens.

“I think the fact that I haven’t had any dropped shots is going to help me. If I can continue that in the final round and start to hole some putts, then hopefully I can get a low one.”

Hull, the Woburn member who has attracted much of the support this week, looked to be veering off course as she reached the turn in two-over. The repair job was terrific, however.

Like a panel beater clattering out the dents and dunts, Hull got on with the task in hand and four birdies in five holes from the 11th roused the spirits and her two-under 70 kept her clinging to the coat tails of the leader.

“I hit some good putts on the front nine and wasn’t really holing anything,” she said of the ones that got away. “I said, ‘gosh, I could be a couple under on the front nine, so if I hit it as good on the back nine as I did going out and make a couple putts, I’ll do well’.”

Law and Hull were joined on that mark by Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, who was going along quite the thing until a costly drive into a bush on the 18th led to a double-bogey.