Karen Stupples of England chipped in a 35-foot birdie on the 18th hole to finish with a 5-under 67 and a two-shot lead after Saturday's second round of the 54-hole Grand China Air tournament.
Successive rounds of 67 put Stupples at 10-under 134 going into the final round.
Laura Diaz of the United States, who led after a first-round 63, stumbled to a 73 _ 8-under for the tournament _ with four bogeys on the last five holes.
Louise Friberg of Sweden shot a 69 to move to 7-under, three off the lead. Three other players were four shots back: Shi-hyun Ahn of South Korea (68), Christina Kim of the United States (68) and Candice Kung of Taiwan (69).
After sinking the chip, Stupples pumped her fist once, then again and followed up by wagging her right index finger in the air _ a bit like she'd just won a 100-meter race.
"I knew coming into the tournament that whoever was going to win it would have to bring it every day," Stupples said. "It's only a three-day tournament _ it's more of a sprint. You have to make as many birdies and be as aggressive as you can all the time."
Both leaders struggled with a 45-minute rain delay on the back nine and found it difficult to regain their rhythm at the West Coast Golf club on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.
An early 15-minute rain was no problem, but the longer suspension a few hours later sent many of the scores soaring in the LPGA's first tournament in China.
"I felt that really took me out of my rhythm," Stupples said. "It was a struggle to hit good quality golf shots from that point on."
Minutes after the play resumed following the second deluge, Stupples dropped a 10-foot putt on No. 13 to go 11 under. Still leading, Diaz failed to go 13 under on No. 13, missing a 6-foot putt for birdie.
That seemed to ruin her round. She slipped to 11 under with a bogey at 14 and had bogeys on the next two holes. She saved par at the 17th, but had a bogey again on the final hole with a poor approach on her second shot.
Playing a group ahead of Diaz, Stupples also had late problems, with bogeys on Nos. 15 and 17. But she saved her round with the chip-in on the 18th.
As far as Stupples can remember, this is the first time since 2004 that she leads going into the final round. Four years ago she won the British Open and another LPGA tour event.
Stupples gave birth to a son, Logan, in 2007, and Diaz had her son, Cooper, in 2005. Both have seen motherhood balance their life, but also change their priorities.
"I can't really put my finger on it," Stupples said about failing to win recently. "Maybe because I had such a successful year in 2004 my expectations were very high. I was really trying hard and pushing too much."
"I think since having him (Logan) I've managed to refocus and enjoy my golf a little bit more than as I was before."
Yani Tseng of Taiwan, who won the LPGA Championship this season as a 19-year-old rookie, carded a 67 and was in a group of eight players five strokes off the lead.
Shanshan Feng, the only Chinese playing on the LPGA tour, shot a 73 and was nine strokes behind.
Both felt at home.
"In America the fans usually just say 'Go, go, go' to me," Tseng said. "But here people actually say things like 'Be relaxed, enjoy the game, don't be stressed,' and things like this. Because they are speaking in Chinese, it has an emotional impact on me."