A small town holds its breath as home hero Céline Boutier edges closer to fairytale first major

Tucked at the bottom of the Alps, Évian-les-Bains was a picture of calm on Saturday afternoon as drizzles of rain cast light ripples across nearby Lake Geneva.

Yet beneath the surface, the charming spa town is crackling with excitement. If France’s Celine Boutier can achieve her dream on Sunday, that electricity will spread across the country.

The 29-year-old took a step closer to her first major title with another imperious showing at The Evian Championship on Saturday, shooting four-under 67 to take a three-shot cushion into Sunday’s final round.

It’s the type of performance that’s been a long time coming for the world No. 15. Despite top-10 finishes in every other major, tied-29th marks Boutier’s best career outing in six appearances at the tournament she wants to impress at more than any other.

That sense of yearning has festered even longer for the nation as a whole. Even including the 19 years prior to the Evian Championship becoming a major in 2013, no Frenchwoman has ever won – let alone finished runner-up – at the tournament.

When asked what the impact of a French winner would be, championship director Jacques Bungert said “it wouldn’t change anything from us.”

“Of course we would be happy for it and that’s great,” Bungert told reporters Wednesday. “What is important to understand is that we have two major Grand Slams in France, Roland Garros and the Evian Championship. It’s the same impact.

“If a French tennis woman won Roland Garros, it’s fantastic, just like Yannick Noah 30 years ago. It changes a little bit the sports here and the crowd and the audience in France behind it.”

Tournament president Frank Riboud added: “The real question for me is one day if we have a player from Morocco or Tunisia winning the Evian Championship, what will be the impact? It’s much more open because you open a new country for the game of golf.”


Even so, all week the small spa town – with a population of less than 15,000 – has buzzed with the growing hope of a historic home winner.

Large crowds had already trailed Boutier during her first round, where she opened with a 66 to move within two of the lead, and grew in number on Friday to watch her shoot 69 to edge to the front of the field.

It was a testament to the levels of support that her number of followers grew further still on Saturday, when tee times were moved forward due to the forecasts of stormy weather later in the day.

Even as dark clouds rolled in across the lake and rain started to fall, the crowds remained, coos of “allez” soundtracking Boutier’s third-round charge. Four birdies before the turn extended her lead, a bogey at the 12th the sole blemish on her scorecard amid tricky closing conditions.

“It’s been really amazing to be able to see and hear the support from the fans,” Boutier told reporters.

“I feel like it’s been very enjoyable for me. I am just trying to take it one shot at a time.”


Best placed to spoil the party is Japan’s Nasa Hataoka, who – three shots behind in solo second – has enjoyed impressive support of her own in her pursuit of a first major title.

Hataoka has been the best performer of 10 Japanese players at the tournament, with the country’s national flag dotting the crowds at Evian Resort Golf Club.

Her own reflection that she was “dialed in” during the front nine was something of an understatement – the 24-year-old shot four birdies in a row on course to arrive at the turn five-under par.

The six-time LPGA Tour winner could not maintain the pace as conditions worsened though, carding no further birdies and two bogeys to drop to 68 for the round.

Trailing Hataoka by a stroke are a pair of two-time major winners, Australia’s Minjee Lee and Canada’s defending champion Brooke Henderson, who shot 66 and 67 respectively.

One to watch Sunday is Nelly Korda, who motors into the final round at a furious pace after shooting a bogey-free third round 64, the joint-best score of the week.

It marked the lowest round of the American’s season, and puts her within range of a second career major in joint-third alongside Japan’s Yuka Saso.

“It was super nice to see all the hard work kind of pay off today,” Korda told reporters.

“Obviously still have 18 more holes, anything can happen, but I made a push today on moving day, which I’m really happy about.”

Korda and Saso will be the third-last pairing to tee off for Sunday’s final round at 12:05 p.m. local time (6:05 a.m. ET), followed by Lee and Henderson at 12:15 p.m, then Boutier and Hataoka at 12:25 p.m.

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