Lee-Anne Pace putts on the first hole during the third round of Marathon Classic. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
In a typical marathon, the competitors are all clumped together at the start of the race.
As the LPGA Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning & OI enters its final round today at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, there may be many players bunched up near the finish line.
After 54 holes, nine players are within three shots of co-leaders Laura Diaz and Lee-Anne Pace, and seven more are within four strokes of first place.
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Diaz, of Scotia, N.Y., and Pace, who hails from South Africa, are knotted at 11-under par as they approach their 12:55 p.m. tee time in today’s final pairing. Final-round play begins at 7:13 a.m.
Diaz (62-69-71) had held the lead since firing a 9-under, opening-round 62 in Thursday’s first round.
She lowered her total to 11-under through 36 holes, but a rough stretch Saturday on the 382-yard, par-4 No. 4 hole cost her the outright lead, allowing Pace (66-68-68) to pull even with a late birdie on No. 17.
Diaz, bidding to win her first LPGA event since 2002, hooked her tee shot on No. 4 under a tree left of the fairway. While examining the ball’s position, Diaz and her caddie, Pete Smith, inadvertently caused the ball to move, creating a one-stroke penalty.
“He was trying to be helpful and trying to move the stick,” Diaz said. “When he came in, the two sticks collided and moved the ball. It’s an accident. It could have happened to anybody.
“The fact of the matter is, he’s trying to help me, so there was no reason or need to get upset. There’s nothing we could do about it. I had hit a bad tee shot, and I had put myself in a bad position. It’s unfortunate what happened, but you just go with the flow.”
Diaz took a double-bogey on the hole, which was later offset by her eagle-2 on No. 9.
“The way I look at golf is, you don’t get strokes back,” Diaz reasoned. “We start a round and we add strokes to our score on every hole. So, it was nice to a have a 2 instead of a 3 or 4 on [No.] 9.”
Pace, an eight-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, has never won an LPGA event.
“Obviously, this would be huge,” Pace said of seeking her first win on this side of the Atlantic. “In Europe, it’s quite a bit different from America. The courses are a little more straight, and the pins are a little more difficult. I was so tired in the beginning of the week, and now this happens, so I’m very excited.”
Tied for third at one shot back are 20-year-old Florida rookie Jaye Marie Green, and the 2012 Farr Classic champion at Highland Meadows, South Korean So Yeon Ryu.
On moving day, Green was the biggest mover. She worked nine birdies into her 8-under 63, trimming eight shots off of her deficit from the tournament’s midway point. She missed a four-foot birdie putt on No. 18 Saturday, or she would’ve tied Diaz for the week’s lowest round.
Green owes her solid play to relaxing and being herself, and a tip from her father and caddie, Donnie Green.
“My dad told me ‘Jaye, you’re getting really close to being back to Jaye Marie Green,” Green said, “so just keep plugging along and a low one’s going to come for you.’ I was like, ‘All right, sounds good,’ but I didn’t really believe him. Now I do.
“I wasn’t feeling great this morning. I was just kind of down. So, when I birdied the first hole I was like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ ”
Ryu (68-67-68), who has been a model of consistency, made her charge with consecutive birdies on Nos. 15, 16, and 17 to cap what was otherwise an even-par round.
“I had so many great birdie chances, so it means I still have a really great chance,” Ryu said. “I'm really happy with what I had closing. I had three birdies in the last four holes, so I can feel the positive energy. I hope I can make more birdies tomorrow.”
Alone in fifth place is blossoming 17-year-old New Zealand star Lydia Ko (67-67-70), who trails by two shots.
“Right now, I'm pretty close,” Ko said. “I'm two or three shots off the lead, so I think I'm in a good position. Today, some people shot 7- or 8-under, so that might be the scenario tomorrow. I don't really know what the final winning score may be at the end of the day, but I definitely need to make lots of birdies.”
The next bundle of players are in a six-way tie for sixth at 8-under, a group that includes five Americans.
Highlighting that U.S. block is last week’s Women’s British Open champion, Mo Martin.
“The last two nights, it’s really caught up to me,” Martin said of returning to the U.S. from her major triumph, and being back in the thick of another tournament. “At 7 o’clock, I’m exhausted and ready to go to sleep. So, I’m looking forward to two weeks off after this.
“I’ve been pretty tired, but able to focus on this week, so I’m proud of that. Part of it is adrenaline, and part of it is I’m in housing this week, and I’m being taken care of very well. Good food, good sleep, and the energy here with the crowds is really nice.”
Also in that American group are Austin Ernst, Brooke Pancake, Christie Kerr, and Brittany Lang. Joining them is Australian Katherine Kirk.
Missing a short birdie putt on 18 kept Pancake from pulling within two shots. “It was definitely a bummer to end the day with that, but I made a lot of great birdies on top of that, and it’s nice to move in the right direction on moving day.” Pancake said.
Kerr also had trouble closing on 18. “It was not very good to bogey the last hole, and I bogeyed it twice already this week,” Kerr said of her finish to round three. “It’s driving me crazy. I guess it owes me tomorrow.
“I just have to draw on what I’m doing well, and just try to clean up the mistakes and get a low round.”
Lang pondered the prospect of today’s logjam at the top, and speculated on a winning formula.
“It’s hard to win out here now because there’s so many good players,” Lang said. “Most of those [top] 11 players you see are probably multiple winners.
“You have to go out and stay aggressive, and make some putts for sure because they’re going to keep charging.”
Lee-Anne Pace (Left) and Laura Diaz (Right) share the lead heading into final round.