NAPLES, Fla. – Celine Boutier felt like she was in the zone Friday. Despite all of the craziness blowing around her.
With winds gusting 15 mph or more, the Frenchwoman put together her second straight 7-under-par 65 to build a four-stroke lead in the $5 million CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.
Thursday, the elite, 60-player field dealt with rain and wet conditions. The second round, swirling winds, especially for the leaders in the afternoon, were the next element thrown at them.
It didn’t matter for Boutier, who fired a 6-under 30 on the back nine.
“I think something about tough courses makes me focus even more, and then I was just really confident with my iron game,” said the 28-year-old, who won the ShopRite LPGA Classic last month for her second LPGA Tour victory. “I think I was kind of in the zone, to be honest. I just didn’t overthink it. Just picked a number and then just was able to do it.
“It was playing very different than (Thursday)for sure. Definitely, the wind was a huge factor in that. I actually enjoy the wind. 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.”
Celine Boutier of France reacts on the 18th green during the second round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on November 19, 2021 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Mexico’s Gaby Lopez, Australia’s Minjee Lee, and American Mina Harigae, who played with Boutier, are all tied for second at 10-under 134 with two rounds to play to determine the winner of $1.5 million in the LPGA Tour’s season-ending event.
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Golfers from six different countries are in the top eight on the leaderboard.
“Celine, she’s a great player,” said Harigae, who lost to Boutier in the Solheim Cup. “Honestly she’s kind of like an all-around, complete player. Great ball striker, great short game, and really, really good putter.
“You know, that equals 14-under for two days.”
England’s Georgia Hall, South Korea’s Eun-Hee Ji, world No. 1 Nelly Korda, and first-round leader Jeongeun Lee6 of South Korea are tied for fifth, with Jin Young Ko, Ally Ewing, Megan Khang, and Lexi Thompson another stroke back at 8-under.
Harigae crept back up the leaderboard by draining a long birdie putt on No. 16, and following up with another birdie on No. 17. She was able to time the wind well all day, although she said she just couldn’t get anything going for most of it.
“I was fortunate enough where it didn’t really gust right when I was about to hit,” she said. “I could kind of just I guess tell that it was like ending a gust or it never really — I was fortunate enough to never get affected by those gusts.”
Celine Boutier of France plays her shot from the 18th tee during the second round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on November 19, 2021 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Boutier birdied seven of her last 10 holes, starting with back-to-back ones on Nos. 9 and 10, then picked more on Nos. 12-13, 15, and 17 and 18.
“Hopefully I get a little bit of confidence from today so I’m able to — I think one thing that’s been a little bit of a struggle for me is sometimes when I get nervous I get tense and I start to overthink and controlling my shots,” she said. “So I feel like hopefully I get a bit more confidence from today and I’m able to play a little bit more relaxed tomorrow and over the weekend.”
While Harigae got going late in her round, both Lopez and Lee pointed to par putts early on that helped out.
Lopez hit a shot in the water on No. 4, but was able to make par. She followed that up with birdies on Nos. 5 and 6, and went on to shoot a 4-under 68.
Lee had an uphill par putt on No. 3, made it, and then responded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 6. She bogeyed No. 18 for a 68.
Lopez has two victories in her career and this year has five top-10s, including one on Sunday at the Pelican Women’s Championship near Tampa, to give her some confidence, Lee has this year’s Evian Championship victory to draw from.
“Just being more mentally competitive and not letting that get myself down instead of focusing on what I need to do to get the ball in the hole,” Lopez said of Boutier’s four-stroke lead.
Lee said: “It’s just like a little silent confidence for me just so I can go out there and play confidently and know that I can play under pressure and play well under pressure.”
Celine Boutier of France lines up a putt on the 17th green during the second round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on November 19, 2021 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Boutier said dealing with pressure is something she’s learning, especially when she’s paired with top players. Lopez does have two victories, but isn’t at the level of a Nelly Korda or Jin Young Ko, for example, who are battling for Player of the Year.
But the ShopRite win and one in September at the Lacoste Ladies Open de France have her feeling more comfortable.
“Honestly, probably getting that win at home and at the ShopRite has been major,” she said. “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.
“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.”
Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at [email protected] Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/