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Boutier and Zhang top contenders for British Open

Stretching back to 2019, there have been 21 different winners in the last 22 major championships in women’s golf.

The field, then, is wide open for the final major of 2023 — even if two players stand out.

Celine Boutier and Rose Zhang are dominating the conversation heading into the Women’s British Open starting today at Walton Heath, a course southwest of London that hosted the Ryder Cup in 1981 and where thick heather is the biggest hazard.

Boutier because of the golf she is producing at the moment.

Zhang because of what’s likely ahead for a 20-year-old star widely regarded as the next big thing in women’s golf.

No one is playing better than Boutier, a Frenchwoman who has won her last two events — starting with a first major of her career at the Evian Championship on home soil last month.

That she followed it up by winning the Women’s Scottish Open by three strokes on Sunday spoke plenty about her belief and state of mind. Boutier is up to No. 3 in the world, is a three-time winner on the LPGA Tour this year and is only the third player since 2010 — after Inbee Park and Ariya Jutanugarn — to capture a major then win the next event on the LPGA Tour.

“It’s definitely a little bit tiring because it’s now been three weeks on the road,” Boutier said. “It’s not easy to stay focused and motivated. But at the same time, it’s also the last major of the year. So I’m just trying to focus on that and trying to finish strong.”

Then there’s Zhang, a two-time NCAA champion who became the first player in 72 years to win an LPGA event on her pro debut and has top-10 finishes in her three major appearances since turning pro this year.

She was the low amateur at last year’s British Open with a tie for 28th at Muirfield, a links course unlike Walton Heath.

It would hardly be a surprise if Zhang joins the ranks of recent first-time major winners in the women’s game.

“There’s a lot of mental toughness that you have to go through,” Zhang, who is already ranked No. 32, said of the expectations on her, “and just learning how to be aware of that allows you to play well.

“I know that my game is there. I know that I have the mental grit to be able to compete well on these difficult golf courses.”

Zhang described Walton Heath as a “beautiful” course. It is long and should play softer because of lots of rain in Britain in recent weeks, with Zhang predicting low scores if it continues to be so wet.

And her priority this week? Stay out of the heather.

“The heather is beautiful,” she said, “but it’s terrible to be in.”

Nelly Korda arrives as the world No. 1 and trending in the right direction after being tied for ninth at the Evian, which followed her winning the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour.

Korda’s only major title was at the Women’s PGA Championship in 2021, her breakout year when she also won Olympic gold in Tokyo.

“Every year, the girls are getting better. Every year there’s younger girls coming out dominating,” Korda said. “Rose came out, winning her first event. It’s getting tough. So whenever you win, it feels really good.”

Korda will be playing the first two rounds with local favorite Charley Hull and former No. 1 Lydia Ko.

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