Kite Misses Golden Opportunity
By Dave Shedloski
Town and Country, Mo. – For most of the longest day in Champions Tour history Tom Kite looked like the man to beat in the U.S. Senior Open.
No one expected him to beat himself.
Leading by as many as three strokes early in the fourth round, and up two shots with five holes to play, Kite shockingly covered the final four holes at Bellerive Country Club in 4 over par to provide enough opening for Peter Jacobsen to win his first Champions Tour title and his first major championship in nearly three decades of professional golf.
"Obviously, I'm hugely disappointed. I gave the tournament away and I don't like doing that," a dejected Kite, 54, said in a brief interview after shooting a 1-over 72 in the final round and finishing 72 holes in 10-under 274. "I did not perform when it counts."
That's a harsh self-assessment for a man with 19 PGA Tour titles, including the 1992 U.S. Open, and who has seven more victories on the Champions Tour. He has performed at a high level consistently for decades, and even earlier this year proved how well he can still play by advancing from a 36-hole sectional qualifier to make the U.S. Open field at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, where he made the cut.
But the diminutive Texan certainly will look back on the 25th U.S. Senior Open as a golden opportunity to add to his hall of fame resume, and it all unraveled with sudden and surprising swiftness.
Kite, arguably one of the fittest players on the Champions Tour, had shot the low score of the third round earlier Sunday, a 6-under-par 65, that put him in front going into the day's second 18 holes. Though Jacobsen birdied two holes out of the chute in the fourth round, Kite answered with an eagle at the fourth, from 25 feet, and birdie at the fifth to regain the lead.
Saying he was in control of his ball-striking for 67 holes, Kite got as low as 14 under par for the championship after a birdie at 11, and a series of pars made it seem he was on his way to another U.S. Golf Association title.
However, the first crack appeared at the par-4 15th when he drove into the rough and couldn't reach the green in regulation. He missed a 15-foot par putt. Then he pulled his tee shot at the par-3 16th into a bunker and couldn't get up and down, missing from 10 feet.
A safe par at the par-5 17th preceded what would be the killer to Kite's hopes.
Still tied with Jacobsen at 12 under, Kite hooked his tee shot into a bunker left of the fairway at the par-4 18th hole, and the ball unluckily rolled back into the pitch mark. Kite attempted to extricate himself with a 5-iron, but he caught it thin and the ball caromed left off the lip of the bunker into deep rough. He wanted to get the ball up obviously.
He came up short and left of the green with a 6-iron third shot, then chipped poorly and two-putted for a double bogey that left him at tied with Jay Haas for third place one behind Hale Irwin and two behind Jacobsen.
"I knew Peter was 12-under at the time, so bogey wouldn't do me any good, and I had to give the shot a try," said Kite, who dismissed any notions that he got tired down the stretch. "I thought I had a chance actually to get the ball over the lip. With a decent lie, there was no problem getting it over the lip. I tried to pick the ball from the lie I had."
"We've all done what he did," said Haas, who played the final two rounds with Kite. "I don't think there's a man in the field who hasn't screwed up coming down the stretch. It's just unfortunate. We all have empathy for someone who does that."
Coming off a second-place finish at the Senior British Open, Kite had spoken earlier in the week about coping with not winning for two years despite playing well. He had not finished higher than 27th in his last nine starts while placing fifth or better four times.
"Playing well and not winning only goes so far," said Kite. "I've gone so long without winning … it just is not what you're out here to do. To play so well and not be winning is a little frustrating."
Then he said something that would prove prophetic.
"I'm trying to do all I can to stay patient," he said. "I can't get in my own way. But, geez, you play like I've been playing, you almost expect sooner or later that it will get you a victory."
Unfortunately for Kite, he did get in his own way on a hot and steamy Sunday that ended rather sourly. Victory will have to wait until later.
Dave Shedloski is a free-lance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.ussenioropen.com.