MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Tom Kite came into the 79th PGA Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club with a purpose: Identify the two players he would pick Monday as his captain's choices for the Ryder Cup team.
An extensive list grew by at least a name after yesterday's opening round -- Kite's.
With a 2-under-par 68, Kite, 47, moved into contention for both his second major championship win and his eighth Ryder Cup berth. A former U.S. Open champion, he played the first 10 holes in 4-under before stumbling with bogeys at par-5 12th and the par-4 14th.
"Those first 10 holes, I played as well as I've played for a long, long time," Kite said. "It was 4-under and it was an easy 4-under. I had about a five-hole stretch where I played like a 23-handicap but on either end of it I was pretty good."
Much of Kite's life for the past year has revolved around the Ryder Cup. The United States will attempt to win it back from Europe next month at Valderrama in Spain. As many as 25 players are still in contention to qualify for the 10 automatic spots.
Though Kite is not among them (he is 29th, and even a victory here wouldn't move him into the top 10), combined with previous finishes this year a victory would certainly merit him consideration. He finished second to Tiger Woods in the Masters, tied for seventh two weeks later at Greensboro and was tied for 10th in last month's British Open.
"I woke up in the middle of the night last night and I got to thinking that this is a major championship and if I wasn't the Ryder Cup captain, I'd be darn sure thinking about trying to win this tournament," he said. "I kind of changed my mind-set there and started thinking about really trying to play well."
If Kite continues to play well, he will certainly muddle his thought processes regarding the Ryder Cup. As it stands, Kite likely will choose Fred Couples with one of his picks.
Davis Love III, a first-round co-leader, is 10th in Ryder Cup points but almost assuredly would be a pick if he fails to stay in the top 10.
If Love does qualify for the team, the other choice could be four-time Ryder Cup player and former captain Tom Watson. Or it could be Kite, who has compiled an impressive 15-6-6 record (5-0-2 in singles) on seven Ryder Cup teams dating to 1979.
"It confuses it," said Kite, who could become the first playing U.S. captain since Arnold Palmer in 1963. "We call it a short list, but for this late date, my list is pretty long. And throwing my name in there makes it even longer."
During the Kemper Open, Kite said that picking himself would be as difficult as "hitting a 2-iron in a divot from a downhill lie over water to a green that slopes away from you."
Asked yesterday if his lie has improved, Kite smiled. "Now, I've stuck a tee under the ball."
Love was quoted in Sports Illustrated last week as saying that Kite has assured him that he would be on the team. His comments yesterday reinforced that feeling.
"I'm really not feeling too much pressure," said Love, a member of the past two U.S. teams and a former foursome teammate of Kite's at The Belfry in 1993. "I want to play the Ryder Cup very, very bad, and I feel like I'm in a good position. I played with Tom [on Wednesday] and he said, 'You just go play the PGA and don't worry about it.' "
Love got to 5-under through six holes. After pars on the first two holes, Love birdied the next two, eagled the par-5 fourth and birdied the par-4 sixth. He fell to 2-under after 13 holes before he made back two strokes with birdies on the last two holes.
Perhaps the player in the most tenuous spot is Jeff Maggert, currently 11th on the points list. It isn't much different than it was two years ago, when Maggert came into Riviera for the PGA in 12th and made the team by finishing tied for third.
"I felt like I was more of a long shot then," said Maggert, who shot 1-under-par 69 yesterday. "I'm not playing for 10th or eighth. I'm trying to win this thing."
Satyshur's role could grow
One person who is very interested in what Kite decides won't even be on the team. But Dennis Satyshur's role as Kite's assistant certainly will be expanded should Kite go from a non-playing captain to a playing captain.
"I want him to do whatever is best for the team," said Satyshur, the head pro at Caves Valley and a longtime friend of Kite's. "If he feels [picking himself] is best for the team, that's what he should do."
Satyshur was here yesterday following Kite. He will return to Baltimore today and be back when Kite introduces the team at 8 a.m. Monday.
Lockout doesn't deter Philo
Ron Philo Jr., 31, a club pro from Amelia Island, Fla., was in the first group yesterday morning at 6: 40. He got up at 4 and arrived at Winged Foot at 5: 10, only to find the clubhouse doors locked and the range closed.
"A guard told me that it wouldn't open for another 20 minutes," Philo said later.
It didn't deter Philo, a former Nike Tour player, from shooting the best round he has had in three PGA Championships. Despite opening with a double-bogey 6, Philo managed a respectable 2-over 72, one stroke lower than he shot in the second round at Valhalla in Louisville last year.
Pub Date: 8/15/97