BOUTIER SECURES FOURTH VICTORY OF 2023 WITH FINAL ROUND SURGE AT MAYBANK CHAMPIONSHIP

Frenchwoman Celine Boutier has added another win to her already impressive season resume, grinding out a victory at the Maybank Championship in a nine-hole playoff with young star Atthaya Thitkul, which tied the record for second-longest playoff in LPGA Tour history. Boutier shot her second 64 of the week on Sunday to charge up the leaderboard from where she began the day at T8. In her first bogey-free round at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, she made eight birdies, including three in a row on holes 3, 4 and 5 and holes 11, 12 and 13. Taking the solo lead late in the day, she headed onto 18 with a one stroke lead and a birdie opportunity to extend that lead. But her birdie putt lipped out for what would be the first time, but not the last time, on Sunday. Meanwhile Thitikul, playing one group behind, sank her birdie putt to force 12th playoff of the season.

“Yeah, I didn’t expect it to be that long, to be honest. I was just trying to do my best each hole and each time I had an opportunity to have a playoff, and I feel like we were both very close to winning a few times, and I just feel like we just had to make a birdie essentially,” Boutier said. “I knew she wasn’t going to make a mistake, so I had to go for it and give myself the best chances for birdies. I feel like she’s an amazing player, and so I feel like it was definitely nerve-racking, but I just feel very happy to have held on for that long.”

On the first playoff hole, both players found the fairway but Thitikul found trouble on the approach, hitting the roof of the hospitality pavilion where her ball bounced off into the rough. Boutier laid up and chipped onto the green, giving herself a 30-foot putt for birdie while Atthaya’s third shot left her on the fringe at the front of the bunker. A great chip from there gave her a good par chance, but Boutier would putt first. The Frenchwoman nearly ended it there, but her birdie putt stopped just inches short. Meanwhile, Thitikul converted the 7-foot par putt to extend the playoff.

Back on 18 tee, Boutier found the fairway again while Thitikul hit it well right into the rough where her ball was embedded into a wet patch. While she took a free drop, Botuier hit her second shot into the left side rough just before the horns blew to pause play due to lightning in the area. After an hour and a half delay, the two were back on 18. From the rough, Atthaya hit her second shot into a greenside bunker but went up and down for par. Boutier stuck her third shot to the same exact spot as the first playoff hole, and almost ended it again with a bolder putting stroke, but the ball lipped out.

“Yes, it was definitely frustrating to say the least,” Botuier said on her two lip outs on 18. “But I honestly hit two solid putts, and it was just maybe a little bit of pace lacking the first time, and then the second time maybe just under it a tiny bit. But yeah definitely felt like it was a bit of bad luck and I almost kind of questioned if it was my time to win this week. But definitely tried to stay patient and not really get ahead of myself too much.”

Both made par on 18 and headed to the par-3 15 for the third playoff hole, where both hit the green but neither stuck it close. Another pair of pars took them back to 18. Thitikul found the rough again on her drive and pitched out onto the fairway while Boutier hit two solid shots, finding the fairway each time. But Thitikul’s third shot was perfect. She stuck it to 8 feet from far back on the fairway and Boutier did the same from 75 yards away. Each made their birdie putt and went back to 15. This time, Boutier found the green but Thitikul did not, landing her ball on the fringe right of the hole and 24 feet away. She missed just left, leaving Botuier with 15-foot birdie chance to win. She also missed left and the two returned to 18 for the fourth time.

Both made par again on 18 and went back to 15 for the seventh playoff hole, three holes short of the LPGA Tour record of 10. Here they would make par for the third time and return to 18 for the eighth playoff hole. Not showing any fatigue, Boutier and Thitikul matched each other shot for shot, each finding the fairway off the tee and laying up to 65 yards. Thitikul put the pressure on with her approach shot, sticking it within 5 feet, but Boutier did the same pitching it within Thitikul’s shot. Each made birdie and headed to sudden death hole number nine, where it would end.

Still matching one another, both players hit it within 10 feet. Each with a chance for birdie, Thitikul missed her putt and Boutier clinched the opportunity to secure her sixth career victory on the LPGA Tour. With her win, Botuier takes the lead in the Rolex Player of the Year standings, surpassing three-time 2023 champion Lilia Vu. 

“I definitely wanted to win that award at some point in my career. I really did not expect it to be this season,” Boutier said. “I just feel like it’s so hard to just be able to win already and just to be able to have the chance to have this award at the end of the season is something that I definitely don’t take for granted. I feel like it’s an unbelievable amount of talent on Tour, and I’m so happy to be able to lead for that award this year.”

Rookie sensation Rose Zhang and Thailand’s Jamine Suwannapura tied for third after Sunday rounds of 71 and 70, respectively. It is Zhang’s fifth top-10 finish on the LPGA Tour in just her 12th event as a professional. Chinese Taipei’s Peiyun Chien finished solo fifth after shooting all four rounds in the 60s, one of just four players to do so. The other three to do it were Nelly Korda, Brooke Henderson and Gemma Dryburgh, who finished T6. Rounding out the top-10 are Megan Khang in solo ninth and Gaby Lopez in solo tenth. Of the sixth Malaysian players in the field, Natasha Andrea Oon performed the best, finishing T52 and -3 overall.

By Nadeem Faisal Baiga