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Diaz Has Company atop Marathon Classic


After opening with a 9-under 62 that gave her a four-stroke lead, Laura Diaz carded a 69 Friday that still left her three up in the Marathon Classic, a 72-hole LPGA Tour event taking place at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio.

But on Saturday the 39-year-old Diaz, a two-time LPGA winner whose last victory came in the 2002 LPGA Corning Classic in her home state of New York, carded a 71 that brought another name next to hers atop the leaderboard in the $1.4 million tournament.

South Africa's Lee-Anne Pace shot a 68 and is now tied with Diaz at 11-under 202. Only one back are American Jaye Marie Green - who fired Saturday's low round, an 8-under 63 - and South Korean So Yeon Ryu (68).

Diaz, who opened with nine birdies and tacked on four more - along with two bogeys - Friday, birdied the par-4 third but immediately doubled the par-4 fourth.

But the two-time LPGA winner eagled the short par-4 ninth after nearly holing her drive to make the turn in 1-under 33. On the home half, however, all Diaz could manage were eight pars and a bogey for a 38.

Diaz has battled nerves in recent years, but she hopes to have those under control when playing in Sunday's final group with Pace. "There is pressure. My gosh, I'm grateful to have the opportunity to play golf for a living," she said. "I make myself nervous, but I really focused today on just going out and having fun. I was able to enjoy myself out there. Let a couple things slide that I think in the past may have irked me. But I felt good about today. Just go out and have fun tomorrow."

Pace, an eight-time winner on the Ladies European Tour in search of her first victory in the States, got to 11-under thanks to five birdies and a pair of bogeys.

Pace said her first victory in the U.S. is far from secure with many players right behind her and Diaz. "The whole LPGA is chasing. No, I think if you can just remain within yourself and play for your strong points, the way I'm playing my putts normally, I think if you keep doing that hopefully have a good day.

"End of the day coming down the stretch, I hope I'm one shot ahead, maybe two. If not, I'll take it as it is."

Green, a rookie and graduate of the Symetra Tour who set a Q-School record in qualifying for the big tour, posted nine birdies and a bogey for her 63. Green said she got a pep talk from her father on Friday that helped immensely.

"He told me, 'Jaye, you're getting really close to being back to Jaye Marie Gree,' " she told reporters. "Just keep plugging along and a low one is going to come for you. I was like, All right. Sounds good. I didn't really believe him, but now I do."

Two strokes out of the lead is New Zealand's Lydia Ko, who posted a 70, while three behind are Australia's Katherine Kirk (68) and Americans Austin Ernst (66), Brooke Pancake (67), Mo Martin (67), Cristie Kerr (68) and Brittany Lang (69).

Though it's not evident from her third-round 67, Martin - who's coming off a career-defining victory in last week's Women's British Open - is feeling the effects of extensive recent travel and the attendant obligations of being a newly-crowned major champion.

"The last two nights it's really caught up to me," the 31-year-old Californian said. "7:00 and I'm exhausted and ready to go to sleep. I am looking forward to two weeks after that. Yeah, I have been pretty tired but able to focus on this week, so I am proud of that.

"I'm glad I've been able to keep my focus, because clearly I'm playing well right now," she added. "I don't think it's validated anything, but I think I'm proud of the fact that I'm still being able to focus and change what I've needed to change for this week."

Only four behind the co-leaders are Americans Kris Tamulis (64) and Kayla Mortellaro (70), South Korea's Mirim Lee (68), Malaysia's Kelly Tan (68), Taiwan's Candie Kung (69), Sweden's Caroline Hedwall (69) and Aussie Linsey Wright (69).

Other scores included a 68 by No. 1-ranked Stacy Lewis, which moved her into a tie for 23rd at 5-under 208, and a 66 by Kraft-Nabisco champion Lexi Thompson, which put her at 4-under heading into Sunday's final round.

Thompson started with a 71 and 72 so was happy to get in a 66. The 19-year-old Floridian is one of four members on the USA team playing in next week's International Crown in Owings Mills, Md. The other members of the squad are Paula Creamer, Lewis and Kerr.

"It's very important," she told reporters of her Saturday round. "I am really looking forward to next week representing my country. To get a little consistent booster like this definitely helps. Hopefully shoot another low one tomorrow."

For all the scores, visit www.lpga.com.