SYLVANIA, Ohio (AP) — Laura Diaz barely remembers the last time she led an LPGA Tour event. Sarah Kemp never had.
Now those two unlikely front-runners head into the weekend chased by a strong group of pursuers at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.
With a surprised hop, Diaz tied Kemp for the second-round lead Friday with a birdie on her final hole. Winless in her last 168 LPGA Tour starts, Diaz looked discouraged with the 12-foot birdie putt halfway to the final hole but then hopped in celebration when it fell in the side door.
“I was shocked,” she said, laughing, when asked about her lack of elevation on her jump. “I looked silly.”
The putt capped a 4-under 67 and a share of the lead with Kemp, who shot a 63, at 11-under 131.
Morgan Pressel had a 68 and was a shot back. She acknowledged that the tournament was there to be taken.
“It’s a crowded leaderboard with very good players at the top,” Pressel said. “It’s going to take two more days of really good golf, and lots of birdies, to make it to the top.”
Natalie Gulbis (65), Seon Hwa Lee (63) and Jiyai Shin (67) followed at 9 under. Thirty players were within five strokes of the lead at the tournament’s midpoint.
Michelle Wie was poised to make a run at her first professional victory until she double bogeyed the final hole.
“I didn’t finish the way I wanted to, but it’s going to give me more ammunition for tomorrow,” she said after her 69 left her tied with Suzann Pettersen (69), Lindsey Wright (68), Kyeong Bae (64) and Eunjung Yi (66), three shots off the pace.
Diaz has struggled with her swing and confidence the past few years but has found some answers the past two days at Highland Meadows Golf Club. She shared the first-round lead with Pressel and Song-Hee Kim after shooting a 64.
“I saw the scoreboard only once right away when we started,” said Diaz, a two-time winner on tour. “But really, I haven’t been in place to be looking at the scoreboard in the last several months, so I was really just trying to stay in my own world.”
She parred the first 12 holes before playing her final six holes in 4 under. Over that span she hit 9-iron approach shots to 3, 15 and 12 feet and then rolled in the birdie putts.
Kemp started early to post a low number, matching Lee for the best round of the day.
Teeing off on No. 10 first, she turned in 2 under and then birdied holes 2 and 3 before stringing together four straight birdies on holes 5-8. None of the birdie putts was more than 12 feet, with four of them half that distance or less.
“My putter was amazing,” said the Aussie, who was a rookie on tour a year ago. “I don’t know how many putts I had, but I don’t think it was many.”
No kidding: she needed just 20.
Pressel, like the co-leaders, is also looking for a breakthrough win. In 2007, she became the youngest major champion (18 years, 10 months, 9 days) at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. But she has not won in her 16 starts since her second and last win, at Kapalua last year.
Wie got to 10 under and a shot back of the leaders heading to the relatively easy par-5 closing hole. She was in prime position after two shots but her third ended up running just off the back of the green. Her chip ended up 10 feet away and she missed that and a 3-foot comebacker for a 7.
“A lot of things that shouldn’t have happened on the last hole,” she said.
Wie needs to win the Farr to get into the field for next week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pa.
Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa followed an opening 67 with a 68 and led the pack at 7-under 135. No. 2 Yani Tseng had her second consecutive 68 and was another shot back.
“There’s a lot of birdies out there,” said Ochoa, appearing at the Farr for the first time in five years. “Tomorrow I need to shoot really low.”
Kemp, Yi, Kris Tschetter, Jin Joo Hong and Allison Hanna-Williams earned spots in the Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, topping the 65 players who registered to qualify in the first two rounds at Highland Meadows.