England’s Trish Johnson hailed the best putting round of her life as she shot a sensational nine-under-par 63 in the third round of the Open de France Féminin on Saturday.

The two-time event champion mixed an eagle with seven birdies for a 16-under total at Paris International Golf Club, where she last won the title in 1999.

She powered into a four-stroke lead ahead of Germany’s Caroline Masson, who shot a 69, with England’s Laura Davies a shot back after a round of 71.

“It’s definitely the best putting round I’ve ever had in my entire life,” said Johnson. “I hit one poor putt on the first and every other putt pretty much I holed, all the way around. I had 24 putts.

“Every other putt I hit for 17 holes was about as good as it gets. Tee to green, not bad, not the best ever. I think I hit 14 or 15 but when you putt like that you’re going to have a low number.”

Johnson was out in 31 with an eagle and three birdies on the front nine. She made a tricky four-footer for par at the second and rolled in an eagle putt from 12 feet at the 477-yard par-five third after hitting a three-wood into the breeze from 210 yards. She picked up shots at the fourth, sixth and seventh holes, hitting the turn at 12-under and came back in four-under 32 with four birdies over the more difficult back nine.

“I probably will never putt like that again in my career,” said Johnson, who claimed her 19th career title at the Tenerife Ladies Open in July.

“I’ve just got to go out and play as well as I possibly can. I don’t think you can defend any sort of lead. I need to go out and shoot 68, 69 tomorrow and if somebody shoots 61 then fair play to them.”

Ironically, Johnson swapped to a new Rife putter after winning in Tenerife and she is feeling the benefit of hours spent on the practise green with the true plane.

“On the first hole I hit a really poor putt and thought, ‘this just doesn’t feel the same as when I’m on the true plane,’ so I just raised my hands and made them really high and feel like I’m on that,” she explained. “Then it’s just a case of trust and I’m not the most trusting of people on the golf course to say the least. Today I decided to trust the stroke and obviously the stroke is pretty good.”

First year professional Masson, whose season best finish was sixth at the S4C Wales Ladies Championship of Europe last month, where she shot 64 in the final round at Conwy, dropped two shots in her opening four holes but fought back with five birdies.

American Hannah Jun shot 67 to share fourth with Australian Rebecca Flood (69) and Italian Diana Luna (71) while the first round leader Linda Wessberg of Sweden was seventh on eight under par.

South African Morgana Robbertze finished a stroke back in eighth place after a career low round of 64 which contained nine birdies and one bogey.

Caroline Afonso shot 71 and was the best placed French player in a share of ninth on six-under alongside American Mollie Fankhauser, who signed for a 73.

Fankhauser was four-under for the day after 11 holes and right in contention but dropped six shots in her last seven holes including a triple bogey at the par-five last after hitting her third shot into the water short of the green.

Final round play begins at 7.40am on Sunday, with the leading three players teeing off at 12.08pm.