LPGA Tour winner Ayaka Furue celebrated her 23rd birthday on Saturday at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards and gave herself a pretty good present, defeating Frenchwoman Celine Boutier 2 and 1 to advance to the Sunday semifinals for the second consecutive year. The pair tied the first two holes with Boutier throwing the first punch, winning holes 3 and 4 to grab an early 2-up lead. Furue got a shot back on the par-5, 7th hole, making birdie to get back to 1 down, and tied the next four holes with Boutier. The 2022 LPGA Tour rookie then tied the match with a par on No. 12, but a Boutier birdie on the 13th gave her a 1-up advantage with five holes to play.
Furue once again tied the match with a birdie on hole 14, following that with another birdie on the par-5, 16th to go 1 up with two holes to go. However, Boutier found some trouble on the par-3, 17th, forcing her to concede the match and give Furue the 2-and-1 victory.
“Just happy to win today. It was really difficult and tough match today, two rounds, but fortunately I was really happy with that,” said Furue, who finished runner-up to Eun-Hee Ji at last year’s event in Las Vegas. “It's mentally and physically tough to have two rounds in just one day. I have experienced that last year, so hopefully I can get some kind of experience (from going through) today's rounds.”
With a tough match against Ireland’s Leona Maguire on deck, Furue is sure to have her hands full on Sunday morning at Shadow Creek. But as we learned last year, don’t underestimate the smiley 23-year-old. She has ice in her veins when it comes to match-play and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her once again in the championship match, with another shot at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play title. For now, though, she’s got recovery, rest and birthday strawberries on her mind, hopefully a winning formula for the Japan native.
“Hopefully there is strawberries in the refrigerator so I get them,” Furue said when asked how she plans to celebrate this evening. “Just really excited to have a match tomorrow. I know Leona is a really good player, so I will just focus and concentrate on my play.”