Celine Boutier and Yu Liu lead US Womens Open, Aditi Ashok in T55

Duke University teammates Celine Boutier and Yu Liu shot 69 and 66 respectively for a share of the 54-hole lead. Aditi Ashok made 75 on Saturday

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Yu Liu - Celine Boutier - LPGA Images

USGA, 02 June 2019: Celine Boutier and Yu Liu, who helped Duke University to a national title in 2014, find themselves tied for the lead and paired in the last group for Sunday’s final round of the 74th U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston.

The two close friends are unexpected leaders, with Boutier missing the cut in her two previous U.S. Women’s Open appearances, and Liu making her first start. Liu matched the low round of the day on Saturday, a 5-under 66, and Boutier shot 69 as the duo completed 54 holes at 7-under-par 206. They lead by one stroke over Lexi Thompson, Jaye Marie Green and Mamiko Higa of Japan, who held the solo lead through 36 holes but slipped back with an even-par 71 on Saturday.

“This is something that’s really out of my expectations because it’s my first-ever U.S. Open,” said Liu, of the People’s Republic of China. “I was just happy to make the cut and play the weekend. Definitely just trying to embrace the moment, playing with my great friend. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Aditi Ashok had a quiet round on Saturday, punctuated by two bogeys on either stretch for a 75. At five-over, Aditi is in T55 going into the final round on Sunday.

Boutier, who went 26 holes without a bogey from the middle of Round 2 to the 16th hole of Round 3, and Liu will start Sunday’s final round at 2:20 p.m. EDT, while Thompson and Green will be just ahead of them at 2:09 p.m.

“I think it’s always good to have an experience of being in contention, being in the last pairing on the last round, and being able to win,” said Boutier, who won for the first time on Tour at the ISPS Handa Vic Open in January. “I think for my confidence, it helped me quite a bit. Hopefully, for tomorrow, it will be the same.”

Boutier, 25, of France, who played four years at Duke and Liu, 23, of the People’s Republic of China, who stayed one year, both earned promotions to the LPGA Tour from the Symetra Tour in 2017, and they retained their cards with solid seasons in 2018.

Green is another unexpected contender. The runner-up to Lydia Ko in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur, Green has had little to show in her five previous U.S. Women’s Open starts, with a tie for 26th and four missed cuts. But one of her made cuts in 2019 is a tie for 12th in the season’s first major, the ANA Inspiration.

“I think I play better in majors,” said Green. “I love golf courses that are a grind. I told my brother [Matt] that I felt like I was going to play well this week.”

Thompson, one of the longest hitters in the women’s game, had failed to take advantage of the par 5s at the Country Club of Charleston through two rounds, though they are statistically the three easiest holes. On Saturday, though, she made two birdies and an eagle, with the eagle coming on the 522-yard 15th, thanks to a 240-yard, 3-wood second shot and a 30-foot putt. Thompson also birdied the next hole, the difficult par-4 16th, and made two solid pars to finish off a 3-under 68.

Thompson made an unusual change on the eve of the major championship, switching to a claw grip at the urging of her brother, Curtis.

“I just made the change Tuesday, and it’s been quite the change, but I feel very comfortable with it,” said Thompson. “I think it’s just something that over a matter of time it will just get better once I get the speed down with it, just more and more comfortable with it. Putting is all confidence and being comfortable over it. I believe I’m there.”

Thompson has nine top 10s in majors since 2015, more than any other player without a win in that time. Sei Young Kim, who is tied for 12th through three rounds, is second with eight.

Higa made bogeys on Nos. 7, 10 and 12 to drop out of the lead for the first time all week. She is attempting to join countrywoman Chako Higuchi, who won the 1977 LPGA Championship at Bay Tree Plantation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., as the only major champion from Japan, male or female.

Boutier, whose best previous standing through three rounds of a major was the 2014 Evian Championship, when she was tied for 54th, is seeking to join fellow Frenchwomen Catherine Lacoste (1967 U.S. Women’s Open) and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc (2003 ANA Inspiration) as a major champion. Lacoste is the only amateur champion in Women’s Open history.

Notable

    • The past several U.S. Women’s Open defending champions have had their difficulties. Michelle Wie was the most successful of the past six champions, finishing 11th in her title defense in 2015. However, 2013 champion Inbee Park tied for 43rd in her defense and 2016 winner Brittany Lang tied for 58th the following year. 2015 champion In Gee Chun and 2017 winner Sung Hyun Park both missed the cut the succeeding year. This year’s defending champion, Ariya Jutanugarn, is tied for 27th through 54 holes.
    • Since 2000, six players have made the U.S. Women’s Open their first win on the LPGA Tour. The champions include Hilary Lunke (2003), Birdie Kim (2005), Inbee Park (2008), So Yeon Ryu (2011), In Gee Chun (2015) and Sung Hyun Park (2017).
  • Liu will try to join Shanshan Feng as the only player from China to win a major championship. Through 54 holes, she is 13 for 17 in scrambling, at 77.3 percent the third-best in the field. She is also best in the field with an outstanding 8-for-14 on putts between 10 and 20 feet.

Quotable

“I think you can try to do too much on a U.S. Open golf course, because it plays tough, it plays firm. If you try to do too much, you’re going to end up getting yourself into more trouble than you need to. … Through the past few years, I’ve learned that it doesn’t take heroics to play well.” – Ally McDonald, who shot 67 to move up 25 spots on Saturday

“Today, I had a really good grouping, playing with Minjee [Lee] and Inbee [Park], one of the best players in the world. So it really helped keep my mentality in the right place. I was just trying to play my own game and just trying to learn from the best. So I think that’s one of the reasons that I was able to stay really focused.” Yu Liu, who matched the low round of the day, a 5-under 66, to take a share of the lead

“I think because the fairways are pretty generous off the tee, you can really be pretty aggressive. And then depending on where the pins are, I think you can be aggressive. I’m not sure if it’s going to be windy tomorrow or not, but I think it really depends on that. I think the wind really is a big factor here.” Minjee Lee, who shot 1-under 70 and is four shots out of the lead