-14 C Boutier (Fra),
-10 G Lopez (Mex),
-10 M Harigae (USA),
-10 M Lee (Aus),
-9 G Hall (Eng),
-9 N Korda (USA),
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By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 19/11/21 11:32pm
Celine Boutier enjoyed an outstanding back-nine 30 to open up a four-shot lead at the halfway stage of the CME Group Tour Championship in Florida.
Boutier was level par after eight holes of her second round before making seven birdies over the last 10 holes to return back-to-back 65s and put daylight between herself and the rest of the high-quality field in the lucrative season-finale on the LPGA Tour.
The in-form Solheim Cup star leads on 14 under ahead of Gaby Lopez, Mina Harigae and Minjee Lee, with Georgia Hall and Nelly Korda going into the weekend five shots off the pace.
Korda’s bid to pip Jin Young Ko to the Race to the CME Globe crown took a hit as her 69 was two more than current Order of Merit leader Ko, who is just one stroke behind the world No 1 with an enticing battle in prospect over the second half of the tournament.
But Boutier’s rich vein of form after the turn, when the wind picked up at Tiburon installed her as the firm favourite to claim the champion’s cheque for $1.5m, the richest prize in women’s golf history.
“I started pretty well with a birdie on one, and then after that, it was kind of a little bit of a struggle,” said the 28-year-old, who fired a closing 63 to win the ShopRite LPGA Classic last month.
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“I just feel like I left a couple of shots out there, then I managed to get a birdie on nine which kind of got me going. My long game was solid all day and I was really able to put it close, especially in the back.
“I actually enjoy the wind. It obviously depends on the intensity, but I feel like today was very manageable. I feel like I was striking it well too, so definitely makes a difference when it’s windy. I was able to take advantage of that today.”
Hall mixed seven birdies with three bogeys in her 68 and thoroughly enjoyed being paired with Korda, the relaxed vibes helping her to avoid getting ahead of herself in her bid to end the season with her first win of 2021.
“Me and Nelly were just having a lot of fun out there and laughing the whole time,” said Hall. “It’s just like a practice round, and that’s what I want it to be, that’s what I want it to feel like.
“I’m doing well here at the moment, and just really focusing on relaxing and keeping my head to one shot at a time. There’s a lot of golf to be played and you can shoot a low round here, so I think focus on each shot and not focus on winning; just get a good round in.”
Hall’s comments were echoed by Korda, who said: “It was great, it was really funny. Georgia made a long putt on 18 and she fist pumped and I was like, ‘Yeah, I hope we play together tomorrow’.
“I love Georgia. She’s always so much fun to play with and she was playing well today, so there was a good energy.”
Korda also insisted she was doing a good job of staying focused on the job in hand rather than let her mind drift towards banking the lucrative first prize on Sunday evening.
“I think the biggest motivator is just a tournament in general and to play your best and finishing on top,” she added. “I don’t really look at the money too much.
“I just go in every week, the fields are so strong and almost everyone on top is playing, so I just try to come out here and play my best and hopefully be in contention.”
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