Birdies, winning chances take flight on Kite

Inability to capitalize on front-nine openings recipe for frustration

U.S. Senior Open notebook

July 03, 2000|By Sam Borden | Sam Borden,SUN STAFF

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Tom Kite had hopes of making the race for this year's U.S. Senior Open a three-horse affair, but he couldn't convert on the chances he gave himself early, settling for a third-place finish at Saucon Valley Country Club.

"I knew we were going to have to make a lot of birdies," said Kite, who shot 65-66 in the middle two rounds to put himself in position.

"Obviously, we knew that we were going to have to go low, and [champion Hale Irwin] seemed to be the only one that was able to put up the numbers early on."

Kite had plenty of opportunities to make some noise on the front nine, but he missed makable birdie chances on nearly every hole. After the round, he admitted he couldn't be too upset with a final-round 69 but was quite aware that it could have been a lot lower.

"The front nine is the nine where you really have to do your scoring because the greens are so much more difficult on the back nine," Kite said. "Those were the key holes in my round, the ones that caused the most frustration, because I had hit inside 15 feet on every one of those holes and was not able to convert. You got to make some of those if you're going to win."

It gets better

Irwin's 17-under-par 267 was a record that spanned all ages and genders. The total was a low for all U.S. Open championships (women's, senior's and men's), edging Juli Inkster's 16-under performance in the 1999 U.S. Women's Open. His final-round 65 also tied Miller Barber (1982) and Doug Sanders (1987) for lowest closing round in a Senior Open.

Putter took holiday

Jack Nicklaus brought the hopes and dreams of the gallery - and himself - to great heights with his opening-round 67 on Thursday, but then crashed back to earth with a 75-73-70 performance. The Golden Bear, who hasn't won a tournament since 1996, was optimistic after shooting just his second round in the 60s all year, but couldn't maintain the solid putting that bolstered him early.

"My putter left me for the rest of the week, basically," Nicklaus said. "The rough was tough and the greens were soft. If you can't putt at all, you shoot what I shot."

Nicklaus debated whether to even complete the four rounds, since he hurt a rib muscle hitting a shot on the sixth hole Saturday. But having dropped out of only three tournaments in his career, he wanted to play.

"I'll just take a week off and we'll see if I can get a little treatment over the next week and see if I can get it so it's usable at the [Ford Senior Players Championship in two weeks]," he said. "If it's not, we'll have to wait for the British Open. We'll just have to wait and see."

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