Fifteen year Tour veteran Laura Diaz ended the second round as she started it, at the top of the leaderboard and, at eleven strokes under par, going into the weekend with a three stroke lead over her closest competitors, New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and South African’s Lee-Anne Pace, who will start the weekend sharing the second slot on the board. At the mid-point in the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning & I-O with nine countries represented on the first page, the top of the leaderboard rather resembles an international women’s conference — or perhaps it anticipates and foreshadows the women’s golf matches we’ll enjoy at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio!
Laura Diaz is something of a surprise as the Marathon Classic leader. She qualified for the LPGA Tour in 1999 after playing collegiate golf at Wake Forest, where she was honored as 1997 Female Athlete of the Year, then on the LPGA Futures Tour and the Ladies European Tour, where she was named 1998 Rookie of the Year. Diaz has represented the United States on four winning Solheim Cup teams (2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007) and served as Meg Mallon’s assistant captain at the 2013 Solheim Cup. Over her 15-year pro career Diaz has earned two Tour victories, both in 2002. She has 57 career top-10 finishes, the most recent coming in 2010 when she finished T5th at the LPGA Tour Championship.
Confessing to nervous anxiety before she tees off, Diaz has nonetheless delivered two fine rounds at the Marathon Classic. She opened with a flawless, career-low of 62 on Thursday and followed with a Friday round of 69, rallying on the back nine to hold off challenges from Lydia Ko and Lee-Ann Pace.
Can Diaz hold on to her lead through the weekend? I asked the same question about Mo Martin, another journeywoman who seemed an unlikely Women’s British Open leader at this time last week.
As Diaz herself observed after two holes-in-one on two consecutive days at the 2014 Kia Classic, “anything’s possible.”
Diaz’s hold on the top of the board is at this point tenuous. A dozen players are going into the weekend within six strokes of her lead. In addition to Lydia Ko and Lee-Anne Pace, who for a time shared the lead with Diaz and are going into the weekend trailing her by three strokes, South Korean So Yeon Ryu and Canadian Rebecca Lee-Bentham are also taking aim at the top of the board. Ryu and Lee-Bentham, both at -7, are sharing fourth place and looking at a four stroke deficit as they start the Saturday round. With about half the field who made the cut carding rounds in the upper 60s today, a four-stroke edge could be quickly wiped out.
Americans Brittany Lang and Kayla Mortellaro are starting the weekend at -5. Moratellaro, world ranked at 764th, is a second year Tour player and a new face on the first page of the leaderboard. She got there with some very fine putting on Thursday and Friday.
An international gang of six is starting the weekend at -5 and sharing eighth place, filling out the first page of the board: Cristie Kerr, Candie Kung, Caroline Hedwall, Katherine Kirk, Mariajo Uribe, and Lindsey Wright.
All of these players are capable of carding a record-breaking low round and turning the leaderboard upside-down.
Early Favorites Fade
Defending champion Beatriz Recari had a shaky double bogey start to her first round, but played a stronger second round and will go into the weekend at -4. She has quite a deficit now, but world ranked number 1 and local favorite to win the tourney, Stacy Lewis, has a bigger one. Lewis will start the weekend at -2, trailing Diaz by nine strokes.
At one stroke over par, two members of the United States International Crown team, Lexi Thompson and Paula Creamer, barely made the cut. Creamer squeezed out two birdies on the the two final holes today to slide up over the +2 cut line.
Gerina Piller (+4), Michelle Wie (+8), and Azahara Munoz (+9) all missed the cut this time. Munoz was playing at a distinct disadvantage. The airlines lost her clubs and she was playing with a borrowed set. Let’s hope the clubs are found and delivered before next week’s International Crown.
Play begins Saturday morning, July 19, at 7:18am local time, with Amelia Lewis leading off solo. The final group, Laura Diaz and Lydia Ko, tee off at 1pm local time, and Golf Channel begins coverage of the round in progress at 3pm ET.
My colleagues and I at ProGolfNow will continue to provide updates and analysis of the Marathon Classic. Follow me on Twitter @bethbethel and I’ll notify you as news and updates are published.