Celine Boutier builds early lead in Women’s PGA Championship

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Celine Boutier was aware of plans to move the tee some 150 yards forward on the par-4 sixth hole at Atlanta Athletic Club, and she had an idea what she wanted to do.

She just needed a different club, though it worked out perfectly for her Friday in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Boutier hit 3-wood on the 229-yard hole to 8 feet for eagle, and then followed with a hybrid to 15 feet for birdie on the par-3 seventh hole. That carried her to an 8-under 64 and a one-shot lead midway through the second round.

“It was actually a little bit shorter than expected,” Boutier said. “So I was kind of in between my 3-wood and my driver, but driver would have been over the green. So I think the best shot was to hit the 3-wood.”

It was the centerpiece of three straight birdies for Boutier, who finally dropped a shot at the end of that run and finished 36 holes at 7-under 137.

That gave her a one-shot lead over Madelene Sagstrom (68), with Charley Hull another shot behind after a 71. Hull also went for the green on No. 6 even as her playing partners, Jessica Korda and So Yeon Ryu, laid up and made pars.

“I always go for pins. I just went with my 3-wood and whacked it on there,” said Hull, who took two putts from 40 feet for her birdie.

Lizette Salas, who had the 18-hole lead after a 67, was among those playing in the afternoon. There was less talk of mud balls on Friday, a product of heavy rain earlier in the week that left the Highlands course soft and long, and still tougher with splats of mud on the ball.

Among those three off the lead were former Women’s PGA champion Danielle Kang (67) and Hyo Joo Kim, who is trying to hold down the fourth spot for South Korea on the Olympic team that will be finalized after this week.

Boutier closed with a 64 in her last event two weeks ago at Lake Merced, though she wasn’t sure what to expect in Atlanta. She felt loose with her irons, found a swing key on the range — swing through the ball instead of hanging back — before she teed off in the second round.

“I was able to hit my irons a lot closer today, so I had a lot of closer putts compared to yesterday,” Boutier said. “Obviously, I made a lot of them.”

Jessica Korda, also vying for the fourth spot for the U.S. Olympic side, was chasing the lead before Boutier made her big finish. She appeared to come undone on the par-3 17th when her tee shot was rolling back toward the water and settled on the rock pavement.

She tried to chip off the rocks and watched it roll all the way into a back bunker. From there, she blasted out to some 40 feet and had to make a 5-footer to salvage double bogey. She birdied the par-5 18th for a 72 and was four behind Boutier.

“Even par is not bad out here. It’s still a major championship, and I need to keep reminding myself that,” Korda said.

Maria Fassi lost two strokes to a penalty for slow play, turning a birdie into a bogey on the 18th and sending her to a 77, right on the cut line.

Kerry Haigh, the championship director for the PGA of America, likes to move up the tees on a par 4 to give players options, as long as it makes sense. He did that on the fourth hole at Kiawah Island last month in the PGA Championship, and last year at Harding Park on the 16th hole when Collin Morikawa hit driver to 7 feet for eagle in the final round of his win.

At 376 yards, with a pond coming up to the front left of the green and a collection area behind the putting surface, the sixth hole was the toughest in the opening round and yielded only two birdies among 156 players.

At 229 yards, it became one of the easiest holes of the second round. With about one-quarter of the field still to come through, No. 6 already had given up four eagles and 37 birdies — along with three double bogeys.

“I don’t think they want us to play fast,” Korda said, putting a different twist on moving tees. “No, honestly, it makes you think about it. Keeping us on our toes, that’s definitely for sure.”

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