Don Pooley birdied three of the first five holes in a round of par 72 yesterday and shared the lead with Mark McNulty, Peter Oakley and Carl Mason halfway through the Senior British Open in Portrush, Northern Ireland.

Tom Kite is among three players one stroke behind. Defending champion Tom Watson, his neck and shoulder ailing, is eight shots off the pace.

If Pooley wins the title at Royal Portrush tomorrow, two-thirds of his titles will be majors. The American won the U.S. Senior Open two years ago, and his only other triumph on the Champions Tour after 14 mediocre years on the PGA Tour was at the Allianz Championship 14 months ago.

"I feel great. This is the first time I've been to Ireland, so it's fun for me," said Pooley, who missed a chance of the outright lead when he sent an approach into a bunker and bogeyed the last hole.

"I got off to a great start. I love links golf and the variety of shots out there. I love this course. I liked it the first day I saw it."

* U.S. BANK CHAMPIONSHIP: Carlos Franco tied his best round on the PGA Tour with a 7-under 63 to take the 36-hole lead with a 9-under 131 total, one shot ahead of steady Rich Beem, in Milwaukee.

Scott Hoch (65), Bo Van Pelt (68) and Patrick Sheehan (68) were two shots back at 133.

Franco's last win came at the 2000 COMPAQ Classic of New Orleans.

* EVIAN MASTERS: Annika Sorenstam took a three-shot lead with an impressive 7-under 65 during a storm-filled third round in Evian, France.

In a hallmark display of cool, controlled play, the world's top player had seven birdies to take the lead from overnight leader Karen Stupples.

"What can I say? I hit a lot of good irons and was solid all day," said Sorenstam, who had five birdie putts from inside four feet.

* IRISH OPEN: Australian Peter Lonard shot a 2-under 70 to take a two-stroke lead after the second round in Drogheda, Ireland.