Kite rewrites USGA record books with front-nine 28

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Everything went well for Tom Kite during a front-nine 28 at the U.S. Senior Open.
July 12, 2012
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

LAKE ORION, Mich. -- For bean crunchers, all the indicators pointed to some very good numbers Thursday for the opening round at the U.S. Senior Open.

Ideal weather. Perfect playing conditions. A classic, no-nonsense design. A dynamite field and a very hot Tom Kite.

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But 28 on the front nine?

"I thought there would be some good scores but I certainly didn't see any 28s or anything like that," Kite said after an early seven-hole blitz paved his way to a 5-under-par 65 at Indianwood Golf & Country Club's Old Course.

Neither did his playing partner, Peter Jacobsen, whose tidy even-par 70 got run over.

"I felt like the Washington Generals playing against the Harlem Globetrotters," Jacobsen said. "I was his towel boy."

Kite's 28 was the lowest nine-hole score in USGA championship history. It included an eagle 2 on the par-4 fourth hole where Kite's approach from 155 yards went into the hole.

Kite's front-nine card featured five 3s to go along with two deuces.

"It was a lot of fun," Kite said. "You don't get rounds like that very often, especially in major championships. The hole just seemed large, and I was hitting some nice shots and, obviously, getting some good breaks."

The eagle on the fourth hole was the first of three straight red numbers and started a stretch of five in six holes.

"That's one of those crazy holes," Kite said. "The second is a blind shot. Hit a drive up the right-hand side, just snuck into the semi-rough. I had 155 yards, just playing an 8-iron and letting it release onto the green. The people up there just started getting louder and louder and louder and louder. All of a sudden, arms went up as the ball went in. I never saw it obviously. Just relied on their reaction."

Kite is coming off a strong performance at last week's Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links where he shot 4 under and tied for ninth. Kite shot 28 last year at the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn where he made three eagles on his opening nine of the second round.

Kite's only stumble Thursday came at the par-3 17th, where he made double bogey.

"You're going to have spells on a golf course," he said. "You're not going to continue that streak that I had. Those don't come around that often. Actually, I was pleased with the way I played the back side. It was a good, solid nine holes of golf until I got to the 17th hole. And then I kind of messed up there. But yeah, there were good saves, especially the one on 12."

On the 12th, a 490-yard par 4, Kite drove it into a pond but saved par from 209 yards by making a six-foot putt.

"I had 203 to the front," Kite said. "That was probably the best shot I had all day. Poor tee ball there, just turned it over a little bit and went into the water and had to make a drop and hit a 3-iron."

"I feel like I'm playing well right now, and obviously, I was surprised, very pleased, ecstatic with the front nine because not only was it a good nine holes of golf, but some good breaks and good putts and just everything got going the right way. Sixty-five is a good score in a major championship. So I'm feeling good about it."

Only Seiji Ebihara at the 2002 Senior PGA Championship at Firestone has ever shot a lower number in a major, 27.

"There should be a lot of birdies out there," said Steve Jones, who made six birdies on the front, and got it to 5 under before settling for 69. "The greens aren't hard. They're not real fast, which it's hard to get them too fast with the slopes. They're soft enough to receive a lot of shots."

The roller-coaster nines he and Jones experienced didn't surprise Kite.

"I think we'll see that all week long," he said. "I think the back side is significantly more difficult than the front nine, and I think the scores will show that throughout the week. There will be some opportunities to take it relatively low on the front nine and try to hang on for dear life on the back nine. There's not that many opportunities on the back."

Jacobsen marveled at Kite's putting.

"Tom putted as well with the long putter today as I've seen him in five or six years he's used that putter," Jacobsen said. "He was confident. He stepped up to every putt, boom, and he was very assertive. He had great speed.

"The two� putt he had on 18 was amazing. He had to go over one of those muffins and knocked it down there about four feet and confidently knocked it in. Everything was working for Kite today. It was great to see. He had a good chance to win last week at Pebble Beach. We play a lot of golf together. I was on the range with him last week and watching him hit some balls. He looked awfully good then. He looked awfully good today."

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