|Kite holds steady over Champions Tour - 10/24/2004|
By: Brian Murphy, San Francisco Chronicle
As October turned to winter on a gray, wet and miserable Saturdayat Sonoma Golf Club, the best the Champions Tour had to offer spun their wheels in thhe mud, splattering stray strokes all over their scorecards. Not Tom Kite, though. the 54-year old Texan wants a season-ending win at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, so he made like the weather, mimicking the drizzle - steady, steady, steady.
In what he called "unrelenting" and "brutal" conditions, Kite never relented and shot even-par 72 in the third round, good enough to stay at 10-under overall, two shots clear of Spain's Jose Maria Canizares, whose solid 70 left him at 8-under, and good enough to gain big ground on the likes of Hale Irwin, who shot 74, Dana Quigley, who shot 77, and Morris Hatalsky, who also shot 77.
That leaves Kite where he's been since Thursday: In the lead, in control and in the final twosome of the day.
"that's where you want to be," said Kite, who could cap an interesting year of highs and lows with a ride to victory today. "They've got to catch me now."
"I like my chances when people give me shots on the first tee."
Irwin remains a factor, three shhots back at 7-under, and so do, at 5-under overall, Allen Doyle (67) and Mark McNulty (68), who posted the best rounds of the day when the 6,955-yard course set-up played more like 69,955 yards. Water-logged fairways yeilded no roll, and heavy, wet air gobbled up distance. Doyle all but pleaded the TOUR to move the tees up for today's final round, and Kite - who joked that it was the kind of day tat made him happy to be a laser surgery eye recipient, years past his days of wearing thich eyeglasses on the golf course - said Sonoma may not dry out for months.
What a thing. The Champions Tour has been coming to the wine country for years, since the days of the old Transamerica tournament at Silverado, precisely because it is a time of year when Indian summers take hold and playeers bask in the California sun, while the rest of the nation bundles up.
"You get to the golf course and say:'What happened to the weather? Why is it so crappy?'" Doyle said. "It was one of those days where if you stayed patient and your expectations aren't real high, lo and behold, you can shoot a good round."
Canizares, meanwhile, played his career on the European Tour, where weather like Saturday's is common on the courses of the United Kingdom and northern Europe. The four-time European Ryder Cup player, 57, scored his only Champions Tour win in the 2001 Toshiba Senior Classic, and admits that life in the United States is "not easy" for a man with broken English and shy nature. He said concentration is key on days like Saturday, and proved it by posting a 2-under round when he it just 10 greens. He also may have set an unofficial Champions Tour record by being the first player to mention former Spanish leader Gen. Francisco Franco in a press tent, noting that "after Franco, there are more facilities to practice and more opportunities to play golf" for the youth of Spain today. Go figure.
At any rate, Kite is the man of the moment. His '04 season marred by the memory of the U.S. Senior Open in August, when he led by two shots on the 15th hole of the final round, then bogeyed 15, bogeyed 16 and, tied for the lead on 18, amde a horrifying double-bogey and watched Peter Jacobsen win. Kite answered his own challenge by winning the week in Minnesota, and now can cap off his post-Open charge by winning the $1 million annuity handed to the winner of the Charles Schwab Cup, a season long points race based on top-10 finishes.
Kite needs to win today, and have Schwab Cup leader Irwin and current second-place holder Craig Stadler finish sixth or worse to claim the Cup. If it comes to the final hole, which it might, Kite would be a good bet. He's birdied it three days in a row, and when he did so on Saturday, it was sort of a message to the field on what he called a "gut check" day. After leaving irons short most of the day, he rifled a 7-iron to 6 feet.
"I finally hit a decent shot," he told the honorary observers watching his group inside the ropes.
He's hit three days worth of them, rain or shine.
Briefly: Mike Hill shot his third consecutive round of 69 to win the Georgia-Pacific Super Seniors title, a 54-hole event for players aged 60-and-over, and won $86,000.... Doyle, born in Rhode Island, raised in Massachusetts, schooled in Vermont, is a massive Red Sox fan, like Quigley, but said he wouldn't accept fair-weather World Series fans on the bandwagon. "These other snakes who are all of a sudden Red Sox fans, Dana and I do not accept them if they don't root for them all year," Doyle said.... Kite has won nine times in Northern California, including the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Curiously, he has never won in his homme state of Texas.