THERE’S nothing to this major championship lark. “Deja vu,” smiled Louise Duncan after finding herself in a familiar position in the upper echelons of the AIG Women’s Open leaderboard.

As an amateur at Carnoustie a year ago, Duncan opened with a four-under 68 to lurk a shot off the pace. Here in 2022 at Muirfield, another four-under start – a 67 this time – has the West Kilbride rookie hovering just two strokes off the early pace.

In a shimmering field packed with more stars than the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Duncan certainly shone and took the whole occasion in her canny stride.

Off in the very first group of the day at 6:30am, Duncan watched her celebrated compatriot Catriona Matthew gets things under way with a symbolic opening tee-shot – the first by a woman in a professional event here – before getting cracking herself.

By the end of her shift, she was pretty happy with her morning at the office. Matthew, meanwhile, had to settle for a 76. “It was worth the 4:30am alarm call,” Duncan said to a gathering of yawning golf writers who had clearly been up at that time too. Or possibly up until that time?

At such an ungodly hour, even the larks would still have had their nightgowns on but Duncan’s dawn patrol was certainly an eye-opening, eye-catching manoeuvre. Just like 12 months ago, when she made sizeable strides on the back nine of her first round, Duncan again made a telling move on her inward half yesterday.

A birdie on 11 got her to two-under before she upped the ante on the 17th with a bold approach from some 240 yards which fed in off the bank and trundled to within five feet of the flag. The eagle putt was gobbled up with glee as she reaped the rewards of her sense of adventure. It almost got better on the last as she attacked the pin with gusto and gave herself a birdie chance from 10 feet. It didn’t drop but Duncan wasn’t going to complain about a four-under start which left her just a couple behind Hinako Shibuno of Japan, who set the first day standard with a 65.

Missing the cut on her professional debut at the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open in her native Ayrshire last week was a bit of a scunner, but this was a timely tonic. “I got a wee bit down on myself last week,” admitted the former Women’s Amateur champion. “My head was down. I just wasn’t in a good mood. But today I was in a good mood and played well.”

Shibuno certainly played well and burst from the traps like a whippet. Three birdies in a row to start had her hurtling up the order and a brace of gains to finish at 16 and 17 fortified her position of authority. Shibuno was a wonderful winner of the Women’s Open at Woburn in 2019 but things have been fairly topsy-turvy since then.

The sight of her name at the top of the standings here almost gave her the kind of nostalgic glow folk used to get when they watched the Hovis bread advert. “I was looking at the leaderboard and remembering the past,” she said with a wistful smile. “It’s rare to be in a position like this. It takes me back [to 2019], it really feels like that.”

Shibuno finished one shot clear of Jessica Korda, who recovered from an early bogey with a haul of four birdies and an eagle on the 17th in a spirited 66. As another victim of the airport baggage handling chaos that has left various clumps of golfing equipment strewn in wild abandon, Korda is still waiting on her luggage arriving from last week’s Evian Championship.

“On Monday I wore Megan Khang’s pants, Tuesday, I wore my sister’s pants and Wednesday I wore Alison Lee’s pants,” said the 29-year-old of the spare clothes she’s had to borrow from her fellow competitors. “Thankfully, FootJoy have sent me a bunch of clothes.”

Despite her sartorial challenges, Korda embraced the Muirfield examination and highlighted her card with a 20-footer for a three on that par-5 17th. “It’s really fun but really stressful,” she said of the exacting test.

Korda may yet be dressed for success.