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Published: Saturday, 7/19/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Laura Diaz leads half-Marathon

Veteran uses late birdies to stake herself to 3-shot advantage

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

At the midway point of the LPGA Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows, the leaderboard is a mix of who’s who and who’s that?

Tournament leader Laura Diaz is a known quantity career-wise, but her successes have been few and far between in recent years.

After a sizzling start — a 9-under-par, first-round 62 on Thursday — Diaz had a somewhat pedestrian 1-over-par round going through 12 holes Friday.

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She rallied for birdies on Nos. 13, 15, 16, and 18, sinking a four-footer to close with a 69. That pushed her lead to three strokes.

“For me, it was just a challenge because I haven’t been in this position in a very long time,” Diaz said, “and I, for sure, haven’t had cameras on me in a long time. I was anxious for them to go away, in a funny kind of way.

“I’m very fortunate to be in this position. A golf tournament isn’t won after 36 holes or 54 holes. In this situation, it’s 72 holes, and there’s lots of golf to be played and lots of great players to go out and shoot lots of great scores.”

Diaz, who has not won an LPGA event since 2002, has been in this position three times previously at Highland Meadows. She held or shared 36-hole leads in the former Jamie Farr Classic in 2002, 2003, and 2009, but did not hold them.

In 2002, she finished the tournament tied for third. In 2003, she tied for eighth, and in 2009, she plummeted to 42nd. The 2009 Farr Classic was the most recent time she held a lead midway through any LPGA tourney.

Another who’s who is 17-year-old New Zealander Lydia Ko, who has created an LPGA buzz in her rookie season with one win, five other top-10 finishes, and more than $800,000 in winnings.

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She shares second place, three shots behind Diaz, after methodically carding matching 67s. The second of those included five birdies to offset a lone bogey on No. 4.

“I try to be calm,” Ko said. “That’s what you have to do. Being overly happy or overly angry, that’s not going to help me. So I try and stay calm.”

A relatively big name on the Sylvania course is South Korean So Yeon Ryu, who won the 2012 Farr Classic.

Following a 68 on Thursday, Ryu’s hot-and-cold second round included seven birdies that were dampened by bogeys on Nos. 1, 6, and 11. She is tied for fourth place at 7 under.

“Today my putting was not that good as yesterday,” Ryu said. “Just missed a couple of par putts, and my iron shot wasn’t that great. But I think my game was quite consistent.”

Two relative unknowns remain near the top entering today’s third round. Tied for second at 8-under is South African Lee-Anne Pace, who followed her first-round 66 with a 68 on Friday.

She closed with tap-in birdies at 17 and 18, nearly making eagle on the par-5 18th.

Coming in, Pace — who had eight wins on the Ladies European Tour — had earned $60,554 in her LPGA career. Her best finish this year was a tie for 29th at last week’s Women’s British Open.

“I’m very happy about the position,” Pace said. “I’d like to be in contention on the weekend. That’s when the fun starts.

“Hopefully I can keep hitting the ball like I am. Make a couple of putts on the weekend and you never know.”

The other long shot is Canadian Rebecca Lee-Bentham, who moved into a fourth-place tie at 7 under with a second-round 67 that followed Thursday’s 68.

In her 45 LPGA events played since 2011, Lee-Bentham has missed the cut 29 times and has no top-10 finishes. Her best finish was a tie for 11th at the Evian Championship last September. She has missed eight of 11 cuts this year and earned just over $22,000. Lee-Bentham’s career has netted $157,131.

“Not much changed,” Lee-Bentham said of her first two rounds. “I had the same mindset. I played well [Thursday], and hit the ball well. Today I just left a little out there with putting, but overall I felt like I played solid.”

Defending Marathon Classic champion Beatriz Recari was eight shots off the pace with a modest 1-under 70 on Thursday. But the Spaniard retained her focus, and she mixed five birdies with two bogeys Friday to pull within a more manageable five strokes.

“The name of this tournament is perfect because this is a marathon,” Recari said. “On this course, you’ve got to be patient, and you’ve got to be smart. I was feeling good from [Thursday], so I just thought that I had to do the same thing and maybe do a better job mentally.

“I’m happy with how it went today. I’m in a better position heading into the weekend before the last two rounds, and hopefully I have a chance.”

Tied for sixth at 6 under are Brittany Lang and Kayla Mortellaro.

In a six-way tie for eighth place are Candie Kung, Cristie Kerr, Caroline Hedwall, Katherine Kirk, Mariajo Uribe, and Lindsey Wright.

The cut was at 1 over, and the most notable player to miss it was Michelle Wie, whose 74-76 left her at 8 over.

Past champion Paula Creamer, who was the runner-up to Recari last year, rallied for birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 to just squeeze into today’s third round at 1-over.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.



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