GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) – Playing through a driving rain, Juli Inkster shot a 6-under 65 Friday to take the opening-round lead at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The 44-year-old Inkster, who hasn’t won on tour in two years, chipped in twice and posted six birdies and an eagle to surge past Annika Sorenstam, who was two shots back after an opening 67.

Mi Hyun Kim was in third, at 2 under.

With temperatures in the low 60s, steady rain and winds of up to 15 mph blowing in off the ocean, the Seaview Marriott Resort course was better suited for ducks than birdies.

Greens were uncharacteristically fast, and shifting winds made club selection and shot placement a guessing game.

But Inkster, a two-time champion and a consistently high finisher in the event, flourished in spite of the conditions, which left her hands feeling like prunes by the time she walked off the soggy 6,071-yard course.

She went through four sets of gloves and five towels in the process.

“It was extremely difficult,” she said. “The wind was blowing, the rain just didn’t let up. It was just a driving rain all day.”

On the 319-yard eighth, she chipped in from 10 feet with a sand wedge. Then she did it again on the 481-yard 16th, chipping in from 45 feet.

“My round was phenomenal, for me,” she said. “I just thought it was a great round. I thought the afternoon played extremely difficult. If you would’ve said to me I’ll give you 2 under par and you don’t have to tee it up,’ I’d still be in my jammies right now.”

Instead, she’s in the lead, hoping to win the top prize of $210,000 to go with her 1986 and 88 Classic victories.

Sorenstam, the tour’s dominant player and a two-time winner here, overcame a sluggish start to reach 4 under.

Playing with a sore throat and stuffy nose from a nagging cold, she got into trouble early. She landed her tee shot on the 407-yard, par-4 second in a sand trap and then two-putted for bogey.

She birdied the next hole but then bogeyed the sixth before turning things around. She made a 35-foot birdie putt at the 10th, boosting her confidence and setting the stage for her strong finish.

Sorenstam picked up another stroke three holes later with a 10-foot birdie putt and added a 6-footer for birdie on No. 15. At the par-5 16th, she reached the green in two shots and rolled in a 5-foot eagle putt.

“Sometimes you just need a little putt like that (on No. 10) to kind of get you going, especially on a day like today,” Sorenstam said.

The winner of four of the six events she’s played in this year, Sorenstam is well within striking distance with two rounds remaining.

Defending champion Cristie Kerr and 18-year-old rookie Paula Creamer, who finished second to Kerr last year, each shot 74.

Coming off a victory two weeks ago at the Sybase Classic, Creamer struggled with her putter, missing at least six birdie opportunities.

Creamer, who learned how to play in rain as a youngster and now thinks foul weather gives her an edge, didn’t show it Friday. After a birdie at the first, she missed short birdie putts on the next two holes and couldn’t rally down the stretch.

AP-ES-06-03-05 1922EDT


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