SYLVANIA, Ohio (AP) — Beatriz Recari of Spain birdied the two closing par 5s to catch Paula Creamer atop the leaderboard through 54 holes in the Marathon Classic on Saturday.
They set up a head-to-head battle between players who are three shots clear of the field.
Recari, who has won twice on the U. S. LPGA Tour, conceded it's hard not to get caught up in a two-women competition.
"Definitely, it's easier because you're playing with the player closest to you in score," she said. "You still have to do your best. You can't control what she does, so you always have to stay focused on what you're doing."
They were at 12-under 201 after each shooting 4-under 67.
The showdown could be a preview. Recari is expected to make the European team for the Solheim Cup next month, and Creamer is one of the mainstays of the American side.
Creamer, who won in 2008 when the tournament was known as the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic, led throughout the round by as many as two shots before Recari's late surge at Highland Meadows.
She was pleased to find herself being the hunted instead of the hunter.
"I love this feeling," said Creamer, who has nine wins but none since the 2010 U. S. Women's Open. "I haven't felt it for a while. I've normally been chasing the leaders, but this is great."
The last time she played in the same group with Recari, it was Recari who had the edge. In the third round of the Kia Classic in March in California, Recari shot a 69 when paired in the last grouping with Creamer, who had a 71. Recari, who had won the CVS last year, ended up winning in a playoff with I. K. Kim. Creamer faded to a tie for 17th.
"She's a great player," Recari said. "It's always great to play with her."
There are plenty of potential challengers, even though several of the biggest names — including world No. 1 Inbee Park, defending champ So Yeon Ryu and top amateur Lydia Ko all fell back into the pack.
American teen Lexi Thompson had a 67 and, along with Jacqui Concolino and Japan's Chie Arimura, was three shots back.
Concolino, whose career-best tie for 11th came at the event last year, had a 69. She has revived her desire to play since taking time off from competitive golf after graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2009.
Arimura, fourth in the tour's rookie standings, three-putted the final hole for bogey and a 68.
Jennifer Johnson (66), Chella Choi (66) and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (68) were at 205.
Park has been the talk of the tour this year, with six victories including wins in all three of the major championships. She'll go for four in a row when the tour returns to action in two weeks at the Women's British Open at St. Andrew's.
But after winning three in a row and with a solid finish last week, she sagged to a 73 that left her tied for 23rd. She double-bogeyed the first hole after hitting her drive into a fairway bunker and never recovered.
That wasn't the worst of it.
"I just putted really bad today," she said, after dropping from sole possession of fifth place through 36 holes. "Outside of that, everything else was really similar (to earlier rounds of 67 and 69), but nothing seems to be going in."
Ryu, who shot a 62 in the final round to win a year ago by seven strokes, shot a 70 and was six shots back of the leaders. Ko had a 71 and was tied with Ryu at 207.