APLES, Fla. (AP) — On Friday, Celine Boutier felt like she was in the zone. Despite all that was going on around her.
With winds gusting up to 15 mph, the Frenchwoman carded her second consecutive 7-under-par 65 at Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort to take a four-stroke lead in the $5 million CME Group Tour Championship.
Rain and rainy conditions plagued the elite 60-player field on Thursday. In the second round, the leaders faced swirling gusts, especially in the afternoon.
Boutier, who shot a 6-under 30 on the back nine, didn’t seem to mind.
“I believe tough courses make me focus even harder, and then I was just extremely confident with my iron game,” the 28-year-old, who won the ShopRite LPGA Classic last month for her second LPGA Tour victory, said. “To be honest, I think I was in the zone.” I just didn’t think about it too much. I just chose a number and was able to complete the task.
“It was definitely playing differently than (Thursday).” Certainly, the wind played a significant role. The wind is something I adore. Obviously, the intensity varies, but I believe today was pretty doable. It really makes a difference when it’s windy, and I feel like I was striking it effectively. That was something I was able to take advantage of.”
With two rounds remaining in the LPGA Tour’s season-ending event, Gaby Lopez of Mexico, Minjee Lee of Australia, and American Mina Harigae, who played with Boutier, are all tied for second at 10-under 134.
The top eight golfers in the standings hail from six different countries.
“Celine is a fantastic player,” Harigae remarked of Boutier, who he lost against at the Solheim Cup. “She’s kind of like an all-around, complete player,” says the narrator. Great ball striker, excellent short game, and exceptional putter.
“You know, for two days, that equals 14-under.”
Georgia Hall of England is tied for fifth with Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea, world No. 1 Nelly Korda, and first-round leader Jeongeun Lee6 of South Korea, with Jin Young Ko, Ally Ewing, Megan Khang, and Lexi Thompson another stroke behind at 8-under.
Harigae clawed his way back up the leaderboard with a long birdie putt on No. 16 and another birdie on No. 17. She was able to time the breeze nicely throughout the day, despite the fact that she said she couldn’t get anything going for the majority of it.
“I was fortunate in that the wind didn’t pick up right as I was going to crash,” she explained. “I could just tell it was the end of a gust or it never truly — I was lucky enough to never be touched by those gusts,” she says.
Boutier birdied seven of her final ten holes, including back-to-backs on Nos. 9 and 10, as well as more on Nos. 12-13, 15, and 17 and 18.
“Hopefully, after today, I get a little bit of confidence so I can — one thing that’s been a little bit of a challenge for me is that when I get scared, I get tense and I start to overthink and control my shots,” she added. “So I’m hoping that today gives me a little more confidence and that I’ll be able to play a little more comfortable tomorrow and over the weekend.”
While Harigae got going late in her round, Lopez and Lee both mentioned par putts that helped them out early on.
Lopez made par on No. 4 after hitting a shot into the water. She then went on to shoot a 4-under 68 after making birdies on Nos. 5 and 6.
Lee faced an uphill par putt on No. 3, which he made, and then birdied Nos. 4 and 6. She shot a 68 after bogeying No. 18.
To give her some confidence, Lopez has two victories in her career and five top-10 finishes this year, including one on Sunday at the Pelican Women’s Championship near Tampa. Lee has this year’s Evian Championship victory to pull from.
Boutier’s four-stroke lead was explained by Lopez as “just being more mentally competitive and not allowing that get me down instead of focusing on what I need to do to get the ball in the hole.”
“It’s just like a little silent confidence for me to go out there and play comfortably and know that I can play under pressure and play well under pressure,” Lee explained.
Boutier said she’s still learning how to deal with pressure, especially when she’s paired with great players. Lopez had two victories, but she isn’t on par with players like Nelly Korda or Jin Young Ko, who are vying for Player of the Year.
But the ShopRite victory, as well as another in September at the Lacoste Ladies Open de France, have made her feel more at ease.
“Honestly, I think earning that win at home and at ShopRite was huge,” she remarked. “Obviously, winning and playing at home is never easy, and getting that second win at ShopRite two and a half years after my first triumph was extremely encouraging for my confidence.”