Friendship is minor in a million-dollar Major

Best friends Liu Yu (left) and Celine Boutier each carded a five-under 66 at the US Women’s Open on Saturday to top a tight leaderboard by one stroke.
Best friends Liu Yu (left) and Celine Boutier each carded a five-under 66 at the US Women’s Open on Saturday to top a tight leaderboard by one stroke.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI • They were teammates at Duke University, winning the 2014 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Women's Golf Championship title together.

But, with the first US$1 million (S$1.36 million) cheque on the line for the winner of the US Women's Open, "best friends" Liu Yu of China and France's Celine Boutier will be setting aside their friendship until the second Major of the year concludes.

On Saturday, both were tied at the top of a crowded leaderboard after each carded a five-under 66 for a total of seven-under 206 in South Carolina, matching the best score of the day.

Americans Lexi Thompson (68) and Jaye Marie Green (68), and Japan's Mamiko Higa (71) were a stroke behind at the Country Club of Charleston, with six others within four shots of the lead.

While debutante Liu had little expectations going into the tournament, she now has the opportunity to become the first Chinese woman to win a Major since Feng Shanshan at the 2012 LPGA Championship and she is "very focused" on her target - even if it means denying Boutier.

The world No. 45, who is in her second season on the LPGA Tour, said: "It's a Major championship. Everybody is out there trying to win.

"She's going to be very focused, and so am I, so I don't really expect anything less.

"This is something that's really out of my expectations because it's only my first US Open. I was just happy to make the cut and being able to play the weekend."

Of her days in Durham with Boutier, Liu added: "We had pretty similar backgrounds growing up. We were at Duke together for one year, and we won the national championship together.

"Because I didn't have a car, she drove me to wherever I wanted to go.

"I didn't have my licence back then as a freshman. I just remember her being really kind."

However, Boutier is equally determined to become only the second Frenchwoman after Catherine Lacoste in 1967 to lift the US Open and believes she can clinch her second LPGA title - her first came in February at the Vic Open in Australia - as she is "hitting the ball pretty good and pretty straight".

Thompson, though, stands in their way of history and, having improved her score in each round by a stroke, the world No. 8 knows she is firmly in the hunt to end her five-year drought in the Majors and a string of near-misses.

The 2014 ANA Inspiration winner, who has had 11 top-10 finishes in Majors since, said: "My key is to go into it as I did the last three days, same mindset.

"I've made a few changes in my swing, my putting. So really just focusing on those things is key."

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2019, with the headline 'Friendship is minor in a million-dollar Major'. Print Edition | Subscribe