REUNION, Fla. – Never let it be said that the French don’t celebrate in style. After a hard-fought victory at the Annika Invitational on Monday, French national team member Celine Boutier was met by four shrieking teammates at the 18th who proceeded to chase her off the green and douse her with champagne, creating a scene not often observed at AJGA events.
Here are five more things you need to know about a down-to-the-wire final round at Reunion Resort’s Independence Course:
1.) Evolution of a lead
After Boutier dropped a 5-foot bogey putt on the 18th, her shoulders dropped and she became visibly relaxed. After entering the final round of the Annika with a four-shot lead, Boutier saw it dwindle through the first nine holes until it became necessary to don her rally cap at the turn. Her resulting two-shot victory over Doris Chen was anything but easy.
Boutier, who hails from Montrouge, France, missed back-to-back 5-footers for birdie at Nos. 1 and 2 to start her day, and allowed the field back into the tournament when she made four consecutive bogeys at Nos. 4-8. A player who wears her emotions on her sleeve, Boutier’s head went down and her hands flew to her face in frustration each time she inched closer to her pursuers. As she stumbled, Alison Lee staged a front-nine charge four groups ahead, and at one point both Lee and Chen, the defending U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, were within one shot of Boutier.
“I was very nervous because my game wasn’t very well and Doris played quite well,” Boutier said.
After restoring her lead to three shots with birdies at Nos. 10 and 11, Boutier seemed to have regained her stride until making bogey at the par-4 16th, despite a perfect tee shot. She followed with an up-and-down par at No. 17 after hitting in three consecutive bunkers. The penultimate hole could be considered the most crucial of the tournament for Boutier.
“I think it was one of my best shots today because it was important because if I missed it, I was just one shot better than (Chen) with one hole to play, so it would be very hard,” she said.
Boutier is no stranger to winning, but the Annika is her first U.S. victory. Also on her resume are victories at the Skandia Junior Open, Italian International Championship and European Girls Team Qualifying.
“(The Annika) is a great step for her to win here,” French national coach Edward Brechignac said of a U.S. win.
Boutier, who has hopes of playing college golf in the U.S. someday, agrees – even if it did amount to a more difficult week.
“I’m more stressed here because it’s players I don’t play with a lot. In Europe we play always with the same girls, so you know how they play,” she said.
2.) Eleventh-hour charge
Alison Lee wasn’t expecting much when she showed up for her first Annika Invitational this week. The 15-year-old didn’t know how she would play after spending much of the past summer fighting her game. She hadn’t won an AJGA event since June.
Lee, however, got on a tear on the front nine, making four birdies and no bogeys to pull within a shot of leader Boutier. Once she figured out she was the only player making such an aggressive charge, nerves caused a cool down. Lee ended with a 2-under 70 and a share of third at even-par 216.
“After I heard that I kind of got over-excited and I had a couple mistakes, but I tried to forget about it again and think about the great front nine I had,” she said. “I got a birdie, I came back and I got another birdie on 17. I’m happy with where I placed.”
3.) Pressure of a home crowd
One of the screaming French women to chase Boutier off the green at the end of the day also nearly chased her out of the lead earlier in the afternoon. Teammate Shannon Aubert, who is from France but plays and practices out of Reunion, made an early charge before struggling with her putter down the stretch. A missed 3-footer for par at the par-3 15th effectively ended her hopes of catching Boutier.
“I just started getting a little nervous because a lot of people started showing up,” she said.
Aubert stopped hitting greens after a front-nine 35 and struggled to a back-nine 39. She finished T-5, at 2-over 218.
The 15-year-old’s next outing will be in honor of a different LPGA legend, as she hits up the Kathy Whitworth Invitational in March.
4.) Notable finishes
A few players deserve a mention now that the first invitational of the season is in the books.
Start with defending champion Victoria Tanco, who never quite mustered enough birdies to pose a serious threat at the top of the leaderboard. Tanco finished T-14 after a final-round 75 that left her at 5-over 221 for the tournament. She remains winless on the AJGA since last year’s Annika Invite.
Jaye Marie Green, who won the Sally Amateur in January, earned a top-10 finish with her 4-over 220. She tied with Paige Lee, Maria Torres and first-round leader Marijosse Navarro.
Finally, Karen Chung, who hasn’t made serious waves since a runner-up finish at the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior, looks to be returning to form. The 15-year-old shot a final-round 73 that earned her a share of 22nd, at 6-over 222. Kyung Kim and Lindsey Weaver, the two top-ranked players in Golfweek’s rankings for the class of 2012, also were at 6 over.
5.) Scouting report
As usual, a bevy of college coaches toured the fairways at Reunion this week to scope out the top junior girls in the game. Twenty-four schools were represented at the Annika, even as college events raged across the country.