Inkster soars to share lead after eagle start

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The veterans held the high ground in the French Alps with Juli Inkster and Rosie Jones sharing the lead after the third round in the Evian Masters here yesterday. Inkster opened with an eagle on her way to a tournament record, eight-under-par 64, while Jones hit a 67 to finish tied on 14 under at 202.

"I don't think it's a surprise Juli and I are out front," Jones said. But Inkster was less bullish. "There are lots of good players who can come through with another 64 and take it away from me," she said.

Fresh from a victory in last week's Sybase Big Apple Classic on the LPGA Tour, South Korea's Hee-Won Han shot a 65, her lowest ever round on the tour, to climb to third place, two shots off the pace at 204. Sweden's Sophie Gustafson, who recorded a 67, was a shot further back in fourth, while Lorena Ochoa of Mexico went round in 71 to drop to fifth slot at 207.

South Korea's Se Ri Pak hit a 66 to draw level with Karrie Webb (68) and Janice Moodie (69) on 208. The defending champion, Annika Sorenstam, shot a 67 and moved up from 34th to 18th but remained 10 shots off the pace.

Inkster got off to a flying start when her lob wedge from 67 yards hit a bump at the back of the green and rolled into the hole for an eagle. She scored six birdies and dropped her only shot when she found the right-hand rough on the fifth, chipped out, hit her third shot close but missed from eight feet.

Jones, whose mother Doris suffered a stroke six weeks ago, has returned to action after a two-week absence. "I'm having a hard time," she admitted. "That's why I've had an abbreviated schedule. But in the hospital, on the Golf Channel, she saw me playing in the Evian and she made a big sound to tell people," added Jones, who recorded six birdies and one bogey in her 67.

Sorenstam shook herself free of two days of unproductive golf by employing a putter with more loft to roll in six birdies for her 67. "Obviously, I'm a bit more pleased," she said. "I hit better shots and got the ball closer, which was key today."

Sorenstam's husband, David Escher, took over her bag when her regular caddie, Terry McNamara, went down with food poisoning, which hampered her efforts. "I had to do my own yardages, which isn't normal," she said. "David didn't do the preparation."

Four of the defending champion's birdies came from inside nine feet and her lone bogey came from twice getting trapped in a bunker at the par-five ninth. "I felt I'd have a chance if I got to six under today," she said. "But it's going to be tough. The leaders are playing great golf."