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Kite Hopes That This Is His Year at Masters

April 06, 1986|DAVID MOFFIT | United Press International

Tom Kite is tired of constantly being a bridesmaid in the Masters golf tournament.

Who can blame him? The doughty little Texan has been sixth or better eight times at Augusta, Ga., in the past decade without winning.

Money Kite can win. In the 14-plus years he has been on the PGA Tour, his golf earnings have exceeded $2.6 million. He was the leading money winner on the PGA Tour in 1981, third in 1982, fifth in 1984. And so far this year, at age 36, he's already taken home $105,000.

But although he has eight tour victories to his credit, he's never won any of the so-called "major" championships.

Jack Nicklaus, five-times Masters champ, can't figure out why Kite hasn't won a Masters.

"Any time you try to predict a winner at Augusta, you have to include Tom Kite," said Nicklaus. "His game appears tailor-made for the course."

Kite disagrees.

"The course (a 6,900-yard layout with wide fairways and relatively little deep rough) gives an unfair advantage to the big hitters," said the 5-foot-9, 155-pounder. "But I'm trying to win every time. I give it my best shot."

"Check the record," said two-time Masters champion Tom Watson. "Tom Kite has shot a bundle of rounds in the 60s at Augusta and one of these days, he's going to put a string of them together."

Last year, when he posted rounds of 75-79 and failed to make the cut in 13 Masters appearance, was an exception.

In the nine previous Masters, the only time Kite wasn't in the hunt right up to the end was in 1978 when being one-under-par for 72 holes was only good enough for a tie for 18th place.

Two years ago, when another Texan, Ben Crenshaw, was the winner, Kite led after three rounds, at 9 under, but skied to a 3-over 75 on Sunday to wind up five shots off the pace. The year before that, Kite and Crenshaw tied for second behind Spain's Seve Ballesteros.

The 1984 blowup wasn't the only time a single round had been Kite's undoing at Augusta. He outscored Nicklaus during the closing two rounds of 1975 when Nicklaus last won the Masters but couldn't make up for a second-round 74. He also outscored Watson in the final two rounds of 1981 when Watson last won, but was plagued by an opening 74.

Kite played the last three rounds of the 1982 Masters in 5 under, with 69s in both the second and forth rounds. But he opened that year with a 76.

"That 76 forced me to play catch up the rest of the way," Kite recalled. "When I finally had a couple of good rounds, they weren't good enough."

"There have been a number of times I could have won," said Kite. "But I don't know I should have won."

"They keep making the course longer and longer with nearly all the changes seemingly directed toward added length. That puts me at a disadvantage. But, if I play well, I can still beat the longer hitters. I'm not the wimp some people seem to think I am. I'm not a cripple. I'm not that far behind. Sure, I'd like a little more yardage, but not at the sacrifice of accuracy."

Kite says there are other ways to "skin a cat" besides trying to overpower a golf course. "If you don't have great length, you've got to be a better wedge player and be straighter more often in the fairway."

Ray Floyd, who was 17-under-par when he won his only Masters crown a decade ago, says while it's true that the Augusta National is a driver's golf course, "If a golfer isn't playing well, it doesn't matter how much the course is suited to him. He won't do well here. Look at Andy Bean. He hits the ball exceptionally long, but he hasn't done all that well in Augusta."

Bean, one of the longest hitters on the tour, has had only one top-10 finish in nine Masters appearances.

"Putting is the real key and that's one of Tom Kite's plusses," said Bean. "I don't think you've ever seen a bad putter win the Masters. But where your ball is on the green is as important at the Augusta National as how well you putt."

"I like to think that's true," said Kite. "That's why I'm more concerned about my approach shots than I am about the length of my drives."

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