Kite Among Senior PGA Leaders
Defending champion Tom Watson was one shot off the pace at 1-under-par 69. He finished alongside 2002 Tradition champion Jim Thorpe, Wayne Levi and Fuzzy Zoeller.
Rains drenched the long South course at Firestone Country Club as the second major of the Senior Tour season got under way.
'It is very, very wet,' said Kite, who is seeking his second major victory on the Senior Tour.
Kite got off to a quick start at the par-5 second after he knocked his 5-wood within 40 feet of the cup to get on the green in two. The 52-year-old two-putted for birdie to get into the red.
At the sixth, Kite hit a 9-iron six feet from the hole and birdied to reach 2-under. However, it was Morris Hatalsky who took the early lead.
Hatalsky played the back side first and opened with a birdie at the 12th. He reached 3-under with back-to-back birdies from the 14th to briefly hold the lead before running into trouble with a bogey at No. 16. Hatalsky's problems continued as he collected four more bogeys for a round of 2-over 72.
Kite found misfortune at the seventh after he pulled a 5-iron into the left bunker and failed to get up and down. He recovered on the inward nine and landed a pitching wedge inside 18 feet of the hole for birdie at the 14th as he closed out his round at minus 2.
'Everybody has their opinion as for how difficult the golf course is,' said Kite, who has won twice already in 2002. 'This is a major championship, last I checked, and major championships are supposed to be more difficult than your normal event.'
Goin grabbed a share of the lead late in his round. At the closing hole, he hit his approach within eight feet to set up the last of a stretch of three straight birdies to finish at 2-under.
'There is a long way to go,' said Goin, who has yet to win on tour. 'It's always nice to get off to a good start. I haven't been playing well lately, for one particular reason or another. The rhythm kind of came around today.'
Smith, who is also seeking his first win on the Senior Tour, first moved into a tie for the lead with a birdie at the 11th. However, the 51-year-old ran into trouble with a bogey at very next hole.
Smith countered with a birdie at the seventh only to drop a shot with another bogey at the eighth. He remained calm and finished his round on a positive note with a birdie at the ninth.
'It's the best round I have had in quite a long time. I played real solid,' said Smith.
The leaders' opening-round score was the highest at this event since Chi Chi Rodriguez stood atop the leaderboard with a 2-under 70 after the first round in 1987.
Watson collected four birdies and three bogeys on his round to finish one stroke off the pace in the opening round of his title defense. The 52-year-old was at 1-over through 11 holes but was able to right the ship with back-to-back birdies from the 12th.
'I felt I was swinging well, I was just a little bit off,' said Watson. 'All in all it was a good round.'
Doug Tewell, who won this tournament in 2000, was part of a large group at even-par 70. He was joined by Brian Lowe, Bobby Wadkins, Walter Hall, Jim Ahern, Jerry Tucker, Larry Nelson, Bruce Fleisher, Larry Ziegler, Jay Overton and Roy Vucinich.
Jack Nicklaus, who missed this year's Masters because of a bad back, had some of the best shots during the opening round to finish one stroke further back at 1-over-par 71.
Nicklaus made his first birdie of the day at the par-4 11th after his approach found a greenside bunker. The 62-year-old blasted out of the sand and watched as the ball rolled into the cup.
At the par-4 17th, Nicklaus was on the green in two but had 50 feet for birdie. He ran home the long, bending putt for his second birdie of the day to the delight of the gallery.
Another bright moment of a dreary day was the play of 80-year-old Jack Fleck, who posted a 7-over-par 77.
'Well, I was very fortunate outside the 18th hole, but it was probably the finest round of putting that I may have had in my lifetime,' said Fleck, who ousted Ben Hogan in a playoff to win the 1955 U.S. Open.
Full-field scores from the Senior PGA Championship
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.