Tom Kite flying high again

SNOQUALMIE — He has a three-shot deficit to overcome, but given his history at the Boeing Classic we can expect Tom Kite to be a likely contender when the tournament concludes today at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.

Kite, a 19-time winner on the PGA Tour and a nine-time winner on the Champions Tour, won this event in 2006 in a playoff with Keith Fergus. The year before, Kite finished second to David Eger.

“I like the golf course,” the 58-year-old Kite said Saturday. “It sets up really well for me.”

Kite broke his string of strong showings at the Boeing Classic a year ago, when he had three rounds in the 70s and finished tied for 38th. But that was a stretch when Kite was struggling, managing just four runner-up finishes in 48 Champions Tour starts.

The reason? “My swing was crappy,” Kite said with his distinctive Texas drawl.

But golf, as even the lowliest hacker knows, is a game that often comes and goes. And with a little extra work, not to mention a new long-handled putter he picked up last fall, the results are looking up for Kite.

“Both last year and (in the early months of) this year have been really atypical Tom Kite years,” he said. “I’ve always prided myself on consistency and playing well week after week after week, but last year and then up until the last month or so of this year it’s been really up and down.

“But I’m really pleased with where my game is right now and the progress I’ve made the last few weeks. I haven’t come through with a really good finish yet, but I’m striking the ball well and putting great.”

If not dazzling in Saturday’s round, Kite was darned steady. He birdied the first two holes, gave back a stroke with a bogey on No. 4, and then added birdies on the sixth, eighth, 12th and 13th holes.

He came within a whisker of a terrific birdie on the 498-yard, par-5 18th hole despite putting his tee shot near the lip of a fairway bunker. Kite blasted out with a wedge, knocked a 4-iron onto the green, and rolled a 30-foot putt right up to the edge of the cup, drawing a huge collective groan from the crowd when the ball stayed on the lip.

“It almost like it rocked back a little bit,” he said with an oh-well grin.

Kite, who won the 1992 United States Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links, said his passion for playing great golf has never waned.

Winning on the Champions Tour might not mean as much as a PGA Tour victory, he said, “but it feels the same.”

“I don’t think anybody is going to think any more or any less about my game from what I do in the rest of my playing days,” he went on. “But for me, winning still feels good. When you’re coming down the stretch and you get the opportunity to get nervous and scared and pumped up, those are great feelings. Those are the feelings we loved in our prime and we’ll continue to love.

“If I had to go play Tiger Woods, no, I’m not as competitive as I used to be. But is my competitive drive still there? Yes. I still love playing, I really do. I don’t think that’s diminished.”

Take me out to the ballpark: Second-round leader Scott Simpson planned to relax in preparation for today’s final round by taking in Saturday night’s Seattle-Oakland baseball game at Safeco Field. Simpson lives in San Diego and calls himself “a Padre fan.”

“So I feel your pain,” he added with a laugh, referring to Mariner fans. The two teams, he said, “are both doing terrible.”

They never forget: Like Kite, Simpson is a former winner of the U.S. Open. In 1987, Simpson won by a single stroke over Tom Watson at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, which is an accomplishment many true golf fans still recall.

“I never won a major again,” Simpson said, “but I think it helps (your confidence) a lot. … It’s been more fun than anything. To win a major, people remember that more than other tournaments. And at the time it gave me different opportunities to play in different places.”

Sibling rivalry: David Edwards, who trails Simpson by two strokes heading into today’s final round, is the younger brother of Danny Edwards, another player in this year’s field.

So what’s that like, he was asked.

“I guess it would be like having your brother be a newspaper reporter in the same town,” Edwards quipped.

David is five years younger than his brother, who got into the tournament as an alternate. When they were boys, David said, “I just kind of tagged along with him. He was always several steps ahead of me growing up.”

Apparently, not anymore. Danny Edwards was 14 over par through two rounds, last in the 77-man field.

Hanging around: Keith Fergus, who is tied for 17th at 3-under 141 going into the final round, played Saturday’s round in 2-under 70. It was his 11th start in this tournament, going back to 2005, and he has played each of those rounds under par.

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