SYLVANIA, Ohio -- Laura Diaz almost chose to walk away from golf to spend more time at home with her family.
Now she's making the decision to juggle both jobs seem like a shrewd move.
"I love being a mom; it's the greatest thing in the world," she said after following a 9-under 62 with a solid 69 on Friday to maintain a three-shot lead through 36 holes at the Marathon Classic.
"It's hard for me when I have to choose. So I made a list. My family is first, and then golf comes second and we work everything out in between."
Diaz led by four shots over Pace and Austin Ernst after the first round.
She was pleased her game was sturdy enough to hang on to the lead despite being in the heat of contention for the first time in several years.
"It was just a challenge because I haven't been in this position in a very long time," Diaz said. "For sure, I haven't had cameras on me in a long time."
So she took the opportunity to say hello to her kids -- 8-year-old son Cooper and 4-year-old daughter Lilly.
"(The cameras) get in my face and I don't really know what to do," she said. "I said, 'Hi, kiddos. I love you.' That kind of stuff."
She made sure the cameras stuck around with her strong play down the stretch.
After a nine-birdie, no-bogey effort in the first round, she showed signs of faltering early on Friday.
She had her first bogey of the tournament on the sixth hole to fall back into a tie with Pace and Ko, but then regained her touch after getting par on the next six holes.
Starting at the 13th, she birdied four of the next six, including the par-5 closing hole.
Diaz was a rising star early in her career, winning twice in 2002 and playing on four Solheim Cup teams. After she married Kevin Diaz, she found that she liked being a wife and mother more than traveling the world playing golf. She hasn't been in the top 20 of a tournament since 2010.
Before the season she was torn between coming out on tour and staying home so as not to miss any of the daily routine. In the end, she decided to keep playing.
"(It was) knowing that I could manage being a mom and play. I think that's something I've struggled with, for, well eight years," she said. "When I only had one (child) I think I got to a point where I was OK. But with two you've got twice as much to get done."
Pace, a South African who is an alum of the University of Tulsa, is looking for a breakthrough win on American soil. After a 68, she couldn't contain herself.
"I'm very happy about (my) position," said Pace, who has won eight times on the Ladies European Tour. "I would like to be in contention on the weekend. That's when the fun starts, right?"
The 17-year-old Ko is bidding for a second LPGA Tour title as a pro to go with the two she won as an amateur. She shot a second consecutive 67, turning in 1 under and then posting three birdies on the inward nine.
The key, she said, was to keep her emotions in check.
"I try and be calm. You know, that's what you have to do," she said, sounding far older than a rookie. "Being overly happy or overly angry, that's not going to help me."
Lurking another shot back at 135 are 2012 Marathon winner So Yeon Ryu and Rebecca Lee-Bentham, both of whom shot 67s.
Ryu was grouped with U.S. Open winner Michelle Wie and last week's Women's British Open champion Mo Martin. A large gallery followed the threesome.
"It was really great to be playing with the two major champions," Ryu said. "I felt like I was one of the other major champions."
Defending champ Beatriz Recari of Spain followed a 70 with a 68 and was at 138 along with Martin, who shot a 71. Wie missed the cut by seven strokes.