The championship of the inaugural Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows appears likely to come down to a head-to-head duel between local fan favorite Paula Creamer, the “Pink Panther,” and up-and-comer Beatriz Recari, whose hometown of Pamplona, Spain is best known for the annual “Running of the Bulls.”
Both players enter today’s final round at 12-under par, three shots ahead of a block of three players tied for third at 9-under.
Creamer and Recari, who shot matching 4-under 67s Saturday, will tee off in a threesome with Lexi Thompson today at 11:20 a.m.
Creamer (66-68-67—201) — whose local connection developed out of her sponsorship affiliation with Owens Corning — says she is hoping to put an end to a significant dry spell in her otherwise successful career.
“This is what I want,” Creamer said. “I’ve never made a secret of how much I like to win and be in contention. But at the same time, I haven’t given myself this opportunity too many times.
“So it’s here, and we’ll see how I can handle it. I’m going to have to make as many birdies as I can and eliminate the bogeys.”
Since winning the Farr Classic in July of 2008, Creamer has managed just two LPGA tournament victories — the Samsung World Championship in October of 2008, and the U.S. Women’s Open in July of 2010.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view more photos from the 3rd round
Her three-year drought without a title seemed unlikely back in 2008, when she opened the Farr Classic with a tournament course record 60 and finished the event at 16-under to claim the title. Creamer, who has won $508,060 this year, has more than $10 million in career earnings.
Recari (69-65-67—201), who joined the LPGA Tour in 2010, has two titles to her credit, including one this year, the KIA Classic in March. Her 2013 earnings stand at $589,023, and she has picked up more than $1.5 million in her three-plus-year career.
“There’s still 18 holes left and a lot can happen,” Recari said. “You have to stay in the present as much as you can, go shot by shot, and stay patient. I stayed patient and finished [Saturday] with a birdie-birdie.
“It’s always a bonus [to finish a round strong]. I’m feeling very good and playing really well. I’m hitting the ball great and making some really good putts out there.”
Although Creamer and Recari have a clear advantage with their shared three-stroke cushion, they are not the only serious contenders.
Thompson, from Coral Springs, Fla., shares third place at 9-under 204 with Japan’s Chie Arimura, and Jacqui Concolino of Orlando, Fla.
Thompson just missed on birdie attempts on hole Nos. 17 and 18 Saturday.
“I hit it really well today.” Thompson said. “I still left a few putts out there, but that’s golf. Hopefully I’ll drain them tomorrow. I feel really good. I’m going to work on the same things I’ve been working on, and hopefully I just drop a few more putts.”
Arimura had a shot at being alone in third place, but bogeyed the 18th hole.
“I feel good so far this week,” Arimura said. “So I’ll keep going, and I will focus on what is in front of me.”
Concolino got a late boost when she chipped in for birdie on No. 17.
“You get it on the green with a little topspin and it’s going to get tracking and possibly go in,” Concolino said of her fortuitous stroke. “It looked good the whole way.
“That was my second chip-in this week, and hopefully I’ve got another one in for me for tomorrow.”
There are also three players tied four shots back at 8-under 205 — Jennifer Johnson of Carlsbad, Calif., Chella Choi of South Korea, and Jodi Ewart Shadoff of England.
“I started hitting the ball close and making the putts I needed to,” Johnson said. “It adds up. I like my position going into the final round.”
A win in the Marathon Classic would go a long way toward Johnson earning a spot on the U.S. Solheim Cup team.
“You’ve got to get it in the fairway around here,” Ewart Shadoff said. “I had a couple blocks today that cost me two shots, and you can’t afford to do that.”
On the fringe of contention at 7-under 206 are South Korea’s Hee Young Park and Mo Martin of Altadena, Calif.
A block of nine players for 11th place at 6-under.
That group includes 2012 Farr Classic champion So Yeon Ryu, New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who is the world’s top-ranked amateur, 2005 Farr champion Heather Bowie-Young, this year’s first-round Marathon leader Alsion Walshe, and Angela Stanford, who fired the low round of the tournament Saturday with a 7-under 64.
“My swing wasn’t really good, and I struggled with my game today,” Ryu said of her longshot bid to defend her title. “But I never gave up, and I finished strong with a birdie and birdie, so now I have a bit more confidence.
“If I try my best [in final round] I’ve still got a chance to make a win.”
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, 419-724-6461, or on Twitter@JungaBlade.