Colorado Springs, Colo. – Tom Kite took a long drink of his post-round beverage and provided a weary overview of his above-par 71 at the U.S. Senior Open Friday.
"The golf course is hard, holy smokes. It’s going to be fun watching on TV today. I’m glad I’m
|With wood in hand, Tom Kite uses it to putt from a fringe during the second round. (John Mummert/USGA)
finished," said Kite.
When Kite, the 1992 U.S. Open Champion, has his feet up in his nearby hotel room, watching the remainder of the second round with his wife and daughter, he can reflect on his bid to once again crack the USGA National Championship code.
His 36-hole total of 138, two under par, put him and Mark McNulty within four shots of early midway leader Fred Funk. Most important, he’s within striking distance of his second USGA title, and first as a senior player. He came close in 2004 at Bellerive Country Club, all but imploding after having the championship won. He was ahead by two shots with five holes to play. He instead finished the final holes four over par and lost to Peter Jacobsen.
That was then.
"I thought I played very well today," said the longtime Texas golf veteran. "Finishing bogey [and then] par on a par 5 that was reachable in two doesn’t go down very good. That’s what I’m trying to wash down with this drink."
But with weekend conditions expected to continue to toughen, and being familiar with the persistent heat that is similar to Texas, Kite knows he’s in good shape for a 36-hole charge. That’s if the course doesn’t become too challenging, according to McNulty, saying "if [the greens] do get a little hardened and too fast, some of those balls are not going to stop."
"It’s a question of getting the ball in the fairway, getting it on the green and trying one- or two-putt," added Kite.
"You have to choose the right club; obviously you have to be hitting the ball well and putting it well to get in a good position."
When Kite won the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links, he overcame extremely tough and windy conditions and capped his victory with an improbable chip-in from the rough for birdie on the par-3 seventh hole in the final round.
During Friday’s second round, Kite found the bunker lip on the par-5 third hole with his second shot. He was able to blast out of the bunker and get up and down from the fairway for a momentum-saving par.
"Holy smokes, you know, that was a great up and down," he said. "I’m really ecstatic with the way I played today."
He has three top three finishes in his previous eight Senior Open appearances, but in the last three years he hasn’t finished higher than 22nd.
This year has been a parallel of sorts, with four top-10 finishes and five finishes at 35th or worse.
"It’s been pretty up and down for me this year," said Kite. "At times, I’ve played pretty well, but at times I played terrible.
"I know what it’s going to take out here. The heat isn’t a factor, for some of the guys who are packing a few pounds, maybe the altitude is a little bit of an issue. It’s not a question of heat and hills or altitude, just putting the ball in the fairway and making putts."
With that, Kite, soft drink in hand, retreated to his hotel TV to absorb what was needed for his weekend quest of that elusive first Senior Open title.
Art Stricklin is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.