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Szokol builds three shot lead at Four Winds Invitational

SOUTH BEND, Ind, Elizabeth Szokol, who is from the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, fired a blistering 5-under, 67 in windy conditions on Saturday to take the 36-hole lead at the Four Winds Invitational at Blackthorn Golf Club. She has a two-day total of 9-under, 135 and will go for her first career win just two hours from where she grew up. Celine Boutier (Montrouge, France) is in second place at 6-under, 138 while Kim Welch (Sacramento, Calif.) and Erica Popson (Davenport, Fla.) share third place at 5-under, 139.

Wind was a major factor on Saturday as gusts peaked at 32 miles-an-hour. The wind stayed steady at 22 miles-an-hour for much of the day. There were only five scores in the 60’s and just 24 players under-par.

A total of 73 players made the cut at 4-over, 148.

Szokol, who entered the day three back of Boutier, made a birdie on three and then caught fire with three birdies in a row on seven, eight and nine. After a bogey on 10, she made a four-footer for birdie on 11.

“I felt good, especially considering the wind,” said the 22-year-old Szokol. “I hit good shots on one and two even though I didn’t make the putts, I got off to a good start. On three, I had 55-yards and hit it to five feet.”

Szokol ranks third on Tour in driving distance at 275.929 per drive and is using her length this week as a major advantage, especially with the howling wind forcing players to hit longer clubs in.

“There isn’t much of a penalty to really try to hit the ball further out and on past courses I’ve had that issue,” explained Szokol. “I’ve had short wedges in and I’ve been able to take three-quarter swings, which was very helpful with the wind today.”

Szokol currently ranks 53rd on the Volvik Race for the Card money list in eight starts. Her best finish is a tie for eighth at the Sara Bay Classic.

“Ive been playing well and I’m excited that I’ve shot two good scores,” said Szokol, who has 12 birdies against just three bogeys this week. “Hopefully I can stay patient and just enjoy the challenge and excitement of it all.”

This marks the first time that Szokol will sleep on the lead into the final-round.

“I just want to go and keep having fun,” said Szokol, who could be seen laughing all day with playing partner Jane Rah. “I just want to enjoy being in this position.”

Szokol didn’t gravitate to golf until she was about 14 years old.

“I played tennis growing up and I kind of fell out of love with it and I had a lot of knee injuries,” explained Szokol, who has had eight knee surgeries and still  wears preventative tape on her left knee. “I really fell in love with the sport right when I switched.”

Szokol has the screws that were placed into her knee to keep her bones in place in two protective cases on her golf bag. She says it’s a constant reminder of what she has been through and the hard work needed to succeed. 

Szokol had an outstanding career at New Trier High School. She led her team to the Illinois state title in 2010 and won the 2012 Illinois Women’s Amateur Championship.

“It’s a comfort knowing everyone is only two hours away,” said Szokol. “The grass at Blackthorn is very similar to what I grew up playing.”

Boutier will go for her second win, which would move her to the top spot on the money list. After making nine birdies on Friday, she made three on Saturday and posted a 1-over, 73.

“I felt like I was hitting the ball pretty well, but just didn’t make many birdies,” said Boutier, who three-putted twice. “I missed a bunch of three and four footers for pars.”

The good news is that Boutier is still just three back.

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