France's Boutier leads LPGA Tour Championship

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France's Celine Boutier lines up a putt on the way to a four-shot lead through 36 holes at the US LPGA Tour Championship in Florida (AFP/Douglas P. DeFelice)

Celine Boutier fired six of her eight birdies on the back nine on Friday on the way to a second straight seven-under 65 and a four-shot lead in the US LPGA Tour Championship.

France's Boutier, coming off a confidence-building seven-under effort on Thursday, was even par through eight holes after a birdie at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida.

She caught fire with back-to-back birdies at nine and 10, then added two more birdies at 12 and 13 -- where she chipped in from in front of the green.

After picking up a shot at the 15th, she closed with another brace of birdies at 17 and 18 to pad her lead.

"I was frustrated with my front, I left a couple of shots out there," Boutier said.

"My long game was really solid all day, and I was able to put my shots close, and it was helpful on the back," added the French player, who is among the European Solheim Cup players still riding the momentum of their victory over the United States in the match-play showdown in September.

Boutier has won two titles since then: the Ladies Open de France on the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA ShopRite Classic in October.

Mexico's Gaby Lopez, Australian Minjee Lee and American Mina Harigae were tied for second on 134 with world number one Nelly Korda and overnight leader Lee6 Jeong-eun tied on 135 alongside England's Georgia Hall and South Korean Ji Eun-hee.

Korda, who is leading South Korean Ko Jin-young in the race for Player of the Year, had four birdies and a bogey in her three-under 69.

She said she had plenty of room for improvement over the weekend.

"I think I can make more putts and I think my iron shots have been loose sometimes on a couple holes here and there," Korda said.

"You're not going to hit every shot great, so I think I've handled it pretty well. Hopefully I can give myself some better looks at birdies going into the weekend."

Ko, who has traded the top ranking with Korda all season, headed a group on 136 after firing a bogey-free five-under-par 67 despite playing through a nagging left wrist injury.

"Not perfect," Ko said, "but I hit a lot of fairways and greens, as well, and I made a lot of putts."

Ko said the wrist injury has troubled her since May, limiting her ability to practice at times.

Even so, she entered the season finale with a chance not only for a $1.5 million payday for a win but also Player of the Year honors that she could capture with a win or runner-up finish if Korda finishes 10th or worse.

bb/rcw

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