There was nothing fancy about Juli Inkster's third round in the LPGA Championship today. If she can keep it up Sunday, she likely will join Pat Bradley as the only players in modern history to win all four major championships on the LPGA Tour, the career Grand Slam.
Inkster, who turned 39 Thursday, may be the hottest player on any pro tour these days, with three victories this season and 10 top 10 finishes in 13 starts. On a warm, humid afternoon at DuPont Country Club, she was not particularly pleased with her game. Nevertheless, she still was tied for the lead with veteran Nancy Scranton (66) and 22-year-old Cristie Kerr (69) at 10-under 203 in her quest to add her second major title this month and 21st win overall.
"I'm 10 under, and there are a lot of good players tied or right behind me," Inkster said. "I'll have to play better than I did, but I still think I have my best round in me."
Despite missing a 10-footer for par -- her first bogey in her last 51 holes -- Inkster came in with a steady 69, her 16th straight round under par since the end of April. She had a four-shot advantage after 54 holes three weeks ago at the U.S. Women's Open in West Point, Miss., where she posted a record 16-under total to win her first Open title.
"There was more pressure on me to win the Open," Inkster said, with her two young daughters sitting on her lap in the media room afterward. "I had a four-shot lead, and it was my tournament. Here, it's everybody's tournament . . . and I think that takes a little pressure off. I'm playing in the second-to-last group, and that takes a little off, too."
Sunday, there will be 19 players within four shots of the three co-leaders, including two-time major winner Meg Mallon at 9-under 204. Mallon, who will be paired with Inkster Sunday, became the fourth woman to shoot 63 in a major championship today and was tied with defending champion Se Ri Pak (67), who is trying to win her third major in only her second season on the tour, two-time U.S. Open winner Liselotte Neumann (70) and first-round leader Rosie Jones (68).
"I can't really watch the leader board because there are so many people up there," Inkster said. "Somebody could get hot early like Meg did today, sit down and have a beer and win it."
Mallon's round was her lowest in a major championship, and the longest of her eight birdie putts was about 14 feet. Her most critical stroke came on No. 18, when she saved par after a tough chip left her 10 feet from the cup. It also allowed her to tie a tournament and course record.
Far more significant, it got Mallon right back in contention for her first major title since she won this event at Bethesda Country Club in '91 and followed it up with an Open triumph a few weeks later.
"Shades of Bethesda," said Mallon, who started about two hours before the leaders went out. "That's why I liked playing the LPGA there because it was hot and humid like this. These are more of the conditions I can swing in, and I love this time of year. . . . I was hoping [the leaders] were paying attention, but I was hoping they weren't getting inspired."
There was plenty of inspiring golf from a number of players. Scranton has two career victories, one a major at the '91 du Maurier Classic, but has missed seven cuts this year. It has taken her a while to get over major reconstructive surgery on her left shoulder.
"Everything seems to be coming together this week," she said. "I've only missed three greens in the last two days, and that makes it a lot easier. I've only had one double bogey, my 14th on Thursday, and no bogeys since then either."
A few minutes later, she was standing in the media room talking to several reporters when Inkster, playing in the last group, bogeyed the last hole seconds after Kerr had birdied it, creating the three-way tie at the top. "Gee, I'm standing here having a Coke and all of a sudden I'm tied for the lead," Scranton said. "Maybe I should stay here a while. What a great tournament."
It's certainly been that for Kerr, as well. In three years on tour, her best finish was a tie for fourth last year. She has missed the cut in four of her last five events. Now, she has a chance for her first career victory in a major championship.
Playing with Inkster, Kerr had a one-shot lead after eight holes but needed a 25-foot, right-to-left breaking putt from the fringe at 18 to make one final birdie and get a share of the lead.
"I've been in contention a couple of times the last three years," Kerr said. "I think that experience enables me to hang in there and stay up with them. You can't focus on one person or the person you're playing with Sunday. There's a ton of people. It's just going to be a horse race."
Inkster would have to be considered the favorite in any sort of sprint to the wire, considering her recent spectacular play.
"She's got to have a lot of momentum," Scranton said. "She's very confident because she's produced over and over. I would think she'll be feeling pretty good. I know I would."
CAPTION: THE LEADERS (This graphic was not available)