SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz. — The 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship came down to a playoff between a pair of Solheim Cup teammates.
France’s Celine Boutier got up-and-down for a must-have tying birdie on the par-5 18th hole Sunday to get to 20 under to knot things up with England’s Georgia Hall, who also birdied the closing hole about an hour earlier.
They replayed the 18th, playing 469 yards Sunday, with Boutier hitting a similar second shot right of the green. Hall then hit her approach into the back bunker. Boutier chipped up to about four feet, setting up a birdie try. Hall, meanwhile, faced a dicey sand shot and ended up about 20 feet past the hole.
After Hall’s birdie putt missed to the left, the stage was set for Boutier to close it out, which she did, making birdie on 18 for the second time Sunday to clinch the victory, her first playoff win.
Following her round Saturday, which gave her a one-shot, 54-hole lead, Boutier said “I think I just realized that my game is good enough.” She sounds even more confident Sunday after earning the win.
“I think it’s definitely not easy to win. I feel like my game was good enough for the past couple years for sure. I just wasn’t able to win. I feel like it’s something you need to learn,” she said. “I definitely had a bunch of opportunities last year and wasn’t able to do it, so to be able to do it this early in the season this year is definitely very satisfying.”
She proved it Sunday by winning for the second time in five tries when holding the third-round lead. She also becomes the winningest player from France in LPGA history, surpassing Anne Marie Palli, who lives in Scottsdale and followed Boutier’s group Sunday.
“It’s wonderful for her to win, and what’s so fun, and I just made her aware, she won in Australia, she won in Atlantic City and here, and Atlantic City and here are the two tournaments I won as well, on tour,” said Palli. “She’s a hard worker. She’s a great player. Yeah, and she’s very nice. I’m very excited for her.”
Hall last won just over a year ago at the 2022 Aramco Saudi Ladies International. The 2018 Women’s British Open champ also has the 2020 Cambia Portland Classic on her resume.
“Obviously fantastic to get to the position I was in. I knew I had to shoot low today, and obviously gutted about the playoff.”
Boutier’s 268 total (69-66-65-68) sets the 72-hole scoring mark. The tournament was 54-holes a year ago and while the LPGA has staged the Drive On event since 2020, the 2022 version is considered the first official event.
Japan’s Ayaka Furue finished solo third. Korea’s Narin An finished solo fourth. Defending champion Leona Maguire finished tied for 23rd.
Gina Kim recorded the first hole-in-one of the 2023 LPGA season when she aced the par-3 eighth hole early in Sunday’s round. “At first I was scared because I was like, ‘Oh, crap. It probably hit the pin and went down the hill or something like that.’ Then I heard my mom screaming and everyone screaming and then that’s when I realized, holy cow,” Kim said. She had a final-round 66 and tied for 66th.
Lydia Ko will remain No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings after skipping the Drive On. World No. 2 Nelly Korda, who finished tied for 57 after closing with a 1-over 73, and No. 3 Jin Young Ko, who finished tied for fifth, each came up short of supplanting Lydia Ko. Among the scenarios for Korda was a win or a solo second. For Jin Young Ko, she needed to win and have Korda finish solo third or worse.
Golfers from four different countries have won the four LPGA events so far: Boutier (France), Brooke Henderson (Canada), Jin Young Ko (Korea) and Lilia Vu (U.S.).
Tournament director Scott Wood says ticket sales, despite the tournament only having been announced in November and no title sponsor to drive promotion, reached close to 35,000 for the week.
Up next: The DIO Implant LA Open starts Thursday at Palos Verdes Golf Club in Palos Verdes Estates, California.