Four times, players have finished 36 holes at the CME Group Tour Championship at 12-under 132. Sei Young Kim in 2019, Lexi Thompson in 2018, Sung Hyun Park in 2017 and Lydia Ko in 2016 – all tied for the lowest 36 holes in championship history.
On Friday, Celine Boutier blew them all away.
With a second consecutive 65, the 28-year-old from the Parisian suburbs set a new 36-hole mark at -14. After making the turn at -1, Boutier came alive on the back nine at Tiburon Golf Club. She carded six birdies, including a chip in from the fairway at No. 13, and takes a four-stroke lead into the final weekend of the 2021 LPGA Tour season.
“I just feel like I was a little bit frustrated with my front. I just left a couple shots out there, so I was really good to get after it on the back,” said Boutier. “My long game has been really solid all day and I was able to put, you know, my shots really close, and that was definitely helpful on the back nine.”
The 14-under 130 also sets Boutier’s career-low 36-hole mark, besting the 132 she shot at the 2018 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Boutier has come alive late in the 2021 season, earning victories at the LET’s Lacoste Ladies Open de France in September and the LPGA Tour’s ShopRite LPGA Classic in October. A final-round 63 in the latter was a true look-at-me moment, vaulting her past Rolex Rankings No. 1 players Jin Young Ko and Inbee Park for a statement victory.
Now, with $1.5 million on the line, Boutier is peaking just at the right time. As someone who admits to getting too tense on the golf course and battling with self-doubt, she will rely on those successes – and some hard-earned personal insights – to keep her emotions in check as she battles toward the largest prize in the history of women’s golf.
“Getting that win at home and at the ShopRite has been major. Obviously winning and playing at home is never easy, and then being able to get that second win for me at ShopRite that was two and a half years after my first win was definitely helpful for my confidence,” said Boutier. “You never know. Maybe the first time was luck. You kind of want to confirm. So it's been very huge for my confidence, and I just feel like a little bit more comfortable in this situation now.”
CELINE BOUTIER TOPS 36-HOLE CME LEADERBOARD
Celine Boutier had herself a day.
After a second-straight 65 at the CME Group Tour Championship, the Frenchwoman took a four-stroke lead in Naples at -14. Her 130 becomes a career and tournament best 36-hole score, as she holds the second-round lead for only the second time in her career. It’s the fourth time in 24 starts this season that Boutier has opened up with two straight rounds in the 60s.
Boutier started with a birdie on No. 1 and notched seven more by day’s end. “I think I just have to keep doing what I've been doing. My long game has been really solid the past two days, so I hope I can keep it up for the next two. We'll see how the conditions also change on the course. I feel like it's playing a little bit drier today; definitely more windy,” said Boutier, who entered the week ranked fifth on Tour in strokes gained approach per round.
Boutier, who won her second Tour title at this year’s ShopRite LPGA Classic, sits ahead of three players in a tie for second at -10. Major champion Minjee Lee and Tour winner Gaby Lopez recorded 4-under 68s to join Mina Harigae at -10. Lopez posted four-straight rounds in the 60s at last week’s Pelican Women’s Championship for the first time since the 2019 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic.
“Honestly, today my goal was just to hang in there, try to hit it somewhat close and put really good rolls on it,” said Harigae. “I'm happy with the way that my back nine ended up.”
Four sit in a tie for fifth at -9, including 18-hole leader Jeongeun Lee6, who posted a Friday 1-under 71 at Tiburon, and Rolex Rankings No. 1 Nelly Korda. “I think I can make more putts and I think my iron shots have been loose sometimes on a couple holes here and there,” said Korda, who is one of five Americans in the top 10. “You're not going to hit every shot great, so I think I've handled it pretty well. Hopefully I can give myself some better looks at birdies going into the weekend.”
Defending champion Jin Young Ko and 2018 winner Lexi Thompson are two of four players fighting from six shots back heading into Saturday at -8. Ko needs a second place finish or better to have a chance at winning the Rolex Player of the Year award. She is battling lingering wrist pain, which she feels in her backswing, but is still enjoying her final event of a spectacular season.
“I don't have 100% confidence for my swing or whatever; just keep hit the ball straight, and just choose right club and right direction from the wind and read a break right,” said Ko. “Yeah, just enjoy. It's fun.”