HOYLAKE, England -- For Jiyai Shin, the Women's British Open is a special week on the calendar. Winning the championship at Sunningdale in 2008 provided her first victory on the worldwide stage. Or, as she put it: "It changed my life."
Shin was not a member of the LPGA before that victory. "I was playing on the Korean LPGA and dreaming of playing on the LPGA," she said. "I never believed I was good like the big players, but that gave me confidence." It also gave her a card for the LPGA and a new home in Atlanta for her, her brother and father.
Her mother had died in a car crash when Shin was 16. The tragedy added perspective to her undoubted talent. She won at Sunningdale with a calm serenity to back up her nickname from home of the "Final Round Queen."
Shin went on to top the Rolex Rankings as the No. 1 player in the world. But then a few injuries stalled her progress. Earlier this year, she required an operation to remove a small bone in the base of her left hand. Other players joked that the injury was caused by her constant practice.
The operation took place at the end of May, and Shin missed two months of the season, including two major championships, as she recovered.
"It was a tough choice to have the operation in the middle of the season, but if I keep playing it would have got worse and worse," she said.
Shin was never worried about her ability to regain her top form following the operation. "I believe in myself," she said. "I was only thinking positive."
During her recuperation, Shin watched some of her tournament victories. One she watched most often was from Sunningdale in 2008.
"Of course, this is a special tournament for me," she said. "I get a lot of fans in Britain from winning at Sunningdale, and now I always enjoy playing here."
At the Women's British Open on Saturday, Shin gave her British fans a masterpiece in links golf with her second round of 8-under 64. She hit every green, missed only one fairway, had an eagle, six birdies and no bogeys. She was especially pleased with not hitting into any of the bunkers.
Like all the great links, Hoylake has many small, mean pot bunkers that are best avoided. Shin did just that with a fine exhibition of ball-striking and course management, laying back and keeping out of trouble whenever necessary.
"With such a tough course, I can't believe 64 shots is possible," Shin said. Although she had a 9-under 62 in the first round of the Kingsmill Championship last week, Shin thought this was the better round given the conditions.
Shin won at Kingsmill, her first victory for almost two years, after a nine-hole playoff against Paula Creamer. The ninth extra hole had to be held over until Monday morning, so she did not arrive in Britain until Tuesday. She rested up the remainder of that day and played her only practice round Wednesday. The weather was so horrendous, she only played the front nine.
The only time Shin had played the back nine before Saturday was in her first round of 71Thursday. With play canceled on Friday due to high winds, Shin got to sleep in and rest up some more.
"Today I felt much better," she said.
Teeing off at 11:50 a.m., Shin started in the best weather of the week. In the middle of the day it was warm and sunny, and the wind coming off the Irish Sea dropped to the gentlest of breezes. The Welsh Hills across Dee Estuary were once more a scenic backdrop rather than a potential hazard to a gale-propelled wayward shot.
Shin took full advantage of the kinder conditions. She chipped in for an eagle at the 10th, her first hole, and then birdied the next three holes. Another birdie came at the par-five 16th as she played the back nine in 31. Despite cooler and windier conditions later in the round, she played the front nine in 33 with two more birdies.
It was the best score of the day by four strokes. Inbee Park had a 68 and moved into second, five behind Shin. The two Koreans played together for the first two rounds and will do so again the last two -- 36 holes will be played Sunday with no re-draw between rounds.
This is good news for Shin. "Normally I don't watch other players, but Inbee has a great tempo and that is good for me to see."
As for a five-stroke lead with half the championship still to be played on such a tough course, Shin was not taking anything for granted. "Five shots, I don't know if it is enough, but I keep focus to the end."