GOLD CANYON, Ariz. (AP) — Celine Boutier of France had an eagle and six birdies in a round of 7-under 65 and moved atop the leaderboard when Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand stumbled down the stretch in Saturday’s third round of the LPGA Drive on Championship.
Boutier, a 29-year-old two-time tour winner, made an eagle 3 on the par-5 second hole and added two birdies that offset a bogey at the par-3 eighth. She played the back nine in 4 under for a 16 under total and a one-stroke lead over three others heading into Sunday’s final round.
“I feel like I had a lot of birdie opportunities today,” she said. “I didn’t even make all of them, but I feel like because I was playing really steady and focusing on hitting good shots and having the birdie chances, I feel like I made a few.”
If the opening three rounds of the tour’s first full-field event of the season are any indication, the finale should be a scramble. There are 17 golfers within three shots of the lead after nine players posted rounds of 7- to 9-under par in a birdie-filled Saturday.
Boutier, whose last win came at the 2021 Shoprite Classic outside Atlantic City, New Jersey, figures she’ll have to go low in the final round with the course’s firm fairways and speedy greens.
“There is definitely a lot of opportunities, so I think I’m going to have to shoot a pretty low score to be able to have a chance,” Boutier said.
Jutanugarn (69), American Alison Lee (67) and South Korean rookie Hae Ran Ryu (64) were tied for second at 15 under.
Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand and rookie Celine Borge of Norway are another stroke back after vaulting up the leaderboard with third round 63s.
Two-time major champion Jin Young Ko of South Korea carded a 4-under 68 and finished in a 12-way tie for seventh place at 13 under.
Moriya Jutanugarn appeared to be taking control of the tournament in the middle of her back nine with four birdies between Nos. 11 and 15 before stumbling on the closing holes. She made bogey at the first and, after moving into the lead at 17 under with two holes remaining, made bogey out of a greenside bunker at the par-3 17th and hit her second shot into a lake that borders the left side of the closing hole. She made bogey 6 at the last, yet looked ahead.
“As long as I’m still in contention, I’m pretty happy with that,” said Moriya Jutanugarn, the 2013 Rookie of the Year who has two tour wins. “I know it’s not the finish I want, but it’s still there.”
Lee overcame a bogey at the third with six birdies through the rest of the round in pursuit of her first LPGA victory. The 28-year-old made the cut in 22 of her 24 events last season with a T-5 as her best finish at the Women’s Scottish Open.
“I definitely have some work to do tomorrow,” Lee said. “I know that for a fact. … Before teeing off, I saw Amy Yang shot 9 under. I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve got a lot of work to do today.’
“With that in mind, I don’t feel at ease, because like I said, I know I’m going to have to step on the gas pedal tomorrow.”
Ryu built momentum through her round, making six birdies and closing with an eagle-3 at the par-5 18th. The first-year tour player hopes to draw on some of her previous experience in the final round.
“I played in the final groups a lot when I played in Korea, but first time in the LPGA, so I really do feel like a rookie-rookie,” the 22-year-old said. “I’ll take each and every shot carefully tomorrow.”
No. 2-ranked Nelly Korda, the highest-ranked player in the field with top-ranked Lydia Ko not competing, was at 10 under after a third-round 70. Defending champion Leona Maguire shot a 69 and was at 9 under.
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