The French Revolution remains alive after the LPGA Tour moved up tee times to avoid thunderstorms on Saturday at the Amundi Evian Championship.
There was a storm surrounding Carlota Ciganda early in the event, but now we are at the business end and Celine Boutier, the local hope, shot a four-under 67 on Saturday to hold a three-stroke lead at 11-under in her homeland’s major championship. A victory for Boutier, 29, would make her the first Frenchwoman to win the Evian. With her consistent 66-69-67 week so far, Boutier doesn’t appear to be wavering with history in sight.
“I feel like the past three rounds have really been three different weather conditions, and so the fact that I’ve been able to keep my game solid for the past three days is very positive,” Boutier said.
The three-time LPGA winner has discussed throughout the week about her attempt to improve the way she handles the pressure of trying to win the French major. Despite her success in her LPGA career, Boutier’s best finish in seven starts at the Evian Resort Golf Club is T-29.
The focus to overcome the additional stress this week has Boutier aiming toward not getting ahead of the current moment. That task’s difficulty is amplified with the extra fanfare in Evian-les-Bains, France, with notable roars rolling through the hills when Boutier hits a good shot. However, the most-successful French player in tour history has been able to put down thinking about the major by spending time with her family at a house 15 minutes away from the course.
In second place at eight-under is Nasa Hataoka, who looks to play the major foil once again after shooting a Saturday 66. The 24-year-old from Japan was in the final group at the LPGA’s most recent major, the US Women’s Open, where she held a one-stroke lead before losing to Allisen Corpuz. Hataoka has two major playoff losses in her career at the 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and 2021 US Women’s Open.
Hataoka could shed the unwanted title of most wins on tour (six) without a major, which she shares with Jessica Korda.
“Tomorrow is another new day, and I want to enjoy the next 18 holes,” Hataoka said.
The last Amundi Evian champions, Brooke Henderson (2022) and Minjee Lee (2021), are four back of Boutier, both contending for their third career major titles. Henderson, 25, stormed the front nine, setting a major record by going out in a six-under 29, including four straight birdies from Nos. 6 through 9. A 10-under day would have tied the all-time 18-hole major score, but instead the Canadian stalled after a double-bogey on the 12th. Henderson’s four-under total puts her T-3, placing her in a position to turn around a season with only one top-10 finish, a victory at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January.
Lee, 27, could further separate herself from her peers during the LPGA’s recent run of major parity with a victory. Over the tour’s last 21 majors, dating back to the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the Australian is the only multiple major winner (2021 Evian, 2022 US Women’s Open). In addition, the she could become the No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings with some help. It’ll take Lee winning plus Korda finishing outside the top 21 and Jin Young Ko, the current top player, with a 20th place or worse result. Ko is T-30 and Korda is T-5.
Korda gave herself a late birthday present with a bogey-free seven-under 64 on Saturday, the day after turning 25. Korda’s lowest round of the 2023 season puts the No. 2 player in the world four back from her second career major title. It’s a notable bounce back from her last few LPGA performances, Korda having missed two cuts before a T-67 at the US Women’s Open where Korda closed with an 80. She regained her footing with her victory on the Ladies European Tour’s Aramco Series — London two weeks ago, boosting the American’s confidence heading into the Evian. Korda’s potential reward for a strong week, beyond a possible second major title, is a return to the top of the world rankings. The LPGA noted at the start of the Evian that there are numerous ways for her to return to the top of the Rolex rankings since Korda and Ko are neck and neck.
Yuka Saso, 22, bogeyed her last two holes to fall five behind with an even-par 71 to join Korda at six under at T-5. Saso maintains her recent run of title contention on the LPGA, finishing runner-up at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and T-3 at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational last week.
While overcoming a five-stroke deficit is typically a daunting Sunday task, at the Evian, three of the last five titles have been won by someone five or more back, most recently Lee’s seven-stroke comeback victory in 2021. The Evian Championship is set to continue its winning formula of winners emerging from the top of the world rankings. Eight of the major’s nine victors were in the top 20 in the world when they won, and only Saso (No. 27) is outside the top 20 from those within five of Boutier. All that’s left is to see who will add their name to the esteemed list of Evian Championship winners.