It has not yet reached the same exalted status as Arnie vs. Jack, but in Saturday's third round of the LPGA Championship, Punky vs. Boomer will simply have to do at the DuPont Country Club, along with another major dose of Juli Inkster.

Kelli "Punky" Kuehne and Cristie "Boomer" Kerr gave each other those monikers not long after they first met as 11-year-olds at a junior tournament in Miami in the late 1980s. It was disdain at first sight, especially when Kerr told Kuehne she was going to throttle her on the golf course. It never happened, and not long after, the two dropped the hostility and became, as Kerr said today, "best buds."

After Kerr, 22, shot a 7-under 64 today that left her at 8-under 134, tying her lowest score in a single round in three years on tour, and Kuehne, 23, had posted a 67 -- 135 a few minutes later, they found themselves within one shot of each other atop the leader board after 36 holes.

Later in the day, Kerr had to settle for a share of the lead with 1999 U.S. Open champion Inkster (66), two-time Open champion Lisolette Neumann (67) of Sweden and Peruvian Jenny Lidback (67), also at 134.

Inkster, who celebrated her 39th birthday on Thursday, won the women's Open three weeks ago in Mississippi with a record 16-under total. Today, she made a major move in her attempt to become only the second player in modern history to win each of the four women's majors. The LPGA Championship is the only one missing from her distinguished resume. She has had 15 straight rounds under par, dating from April.

"Not really," Inkster said when asked if she's even thinking about the Grand Slam. "I think I have as good a chance as anyone else, and that's all I want -- a chance.

"But there are a lot of good players behind me. Instead of being a two-man race, it's going to be a 15-person race. I don't know how [her game] could get any better. I can't explain it. I'm just doing everything good right now."

For a while today, it appeared as if Kuehne and Kerr might be paired Saturday for the first time since their junior golf days. Instead, it will be Kerr and Inkster in the last group, with Neumann and Kuehne up ahead. But Kerr and Kuehne will be able to keep an eye on each other's progress throughout the round.

They have taken vastly different roads in their pro careers. Kuehne, a Dallas native and two-time U.S. Amateur champion, spent two years at the University of Texas before deciding to turn pro. She struggled as a rookie last year, then won for the first time this season at the Corning Classic the week before the Open, providing a huge confidence boost.

Kerr grew up in South Florida and, like Kuehne, was a dominant junior. She turned pro right out of Sunset Senior High School in Kendall, Fla. She had played in seven pro events as an amateur, made the cut in two in 1996 and finished sixth in qualifying school that year to earn her LPGA playing card.

So far, she hasn't come close to fulfilling the promise of her teenage years, and the consensus among her peers is that she should have gone to college for a few years. When she turned pro, accompanied on tour by her father, Michael, she was a self-described "brat." "I might have been a little conceited," she said today. "But golf puts you in your place, and you take your medicine and learn from it.

"I'm not the first player to come out here out of high school. But you really have no clue what you're doing. You think you do, but not really. From now to when I first came out, it's the same old story -- if I knew then what I know now. But you can't."

Today, she could. She had few problems on the course where she won the American Junior Golf Association Betsy Rawls national championship in 1995. Starting on the back nine, she made eight birdies and a bogey from a bunker at No. 8, with no birdie putt longer than 18 feet. A long hitter, she reached two of the three par-5s in two shots, and had birdies on all three.

Kuehne started on the front, had four birdies and three scrambling saves of par on her way to another weekend in contention in a major championship. In Mississippi, she put some early heat on Inkster but struggled with her putting on a day when she was almost flawless tee to green and finished third.

Kuehne and Kerr said they relish the chance to be so close on the leader board and in contention in a major event. They shop together, work out together and often practice together.

Kuehne's fiance, Minnesota Vikings rookie lineman Jay Humphries, introduced Kerr to his best friend in high school and college, and now they're dating. Kerr will be a maid of honor at Kuehne's wedding in February.

They also have a standing $20 bet any time both make the cut and play in the final round, with low score taking the cash. Sometimes they will see each other before any round and give the high sign that the bet is on.

"On the course, it's neck and neck, fierce competitors," Kerr said. "But we want to see each other do well.

"Why can't we both do well? Someone has to win. But there's nothing like seeing a good friend of yours you grew up with play well. Of course it'll be competitive. That's a given."

CAPTION: Rosie Jones, the first-round leader at the LPGA Championship, escapes a sand trap on the 18th hole en route to shooting a 72. With a two-day score of 136, she is two strokes off the lead.

CAPTION: A second straight round of 67 gives Liselotte Neumann reason to smile.