Dana Quigley, the Champions Tour iron man, who has played in 262 consecutive events for which he has been eligible, shot a 7-under 65 and is alone in second place.
Hale Irwin, who holds a 39-point lead over Craig Stadler in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup race for a $1 million, tax-free annuity, posted a 6-under 66 and has third place.
This is the final event of the season on the Champions Tour calendar and the field is an elite one. The top-30 on the money list compete this week under optimum conditions.
Rain earlier in the week rendered Sonoma Golf Club defenseless. Most players admitted that they thought double-digits under par would win the championship, but the soft greens allowed more than half of the field to break par in the opening round.
Kite birdied the third hole, then ran home an 18-foot birdie putt at the sixth. At the eighth, Kite sank a 35-foot birdie putt, then made it back-to-back birdies at nine, when he rolled in a 5-footer. The 1992 U.S. Open champion polished off three birdies in a row at No. 10 when his 20-footer found the bottom of the cup.
At the par-5 13th, Kite reached the green in two, but two-putted from 40 feet for birdie to reach 6 under par for the championship. He dropped a shot to par at the 15th, but came back in a big way on the closing holes at Sonoma Golf Club.
Kite once again landed on the putting surface in two at a par-5, this time at the 16th. He holed his 30-foot eagle putt to join Quigley in the lead at 7 under par.
Kite parred the 17th, but took sole possession of the lead at No. 18. He found the fairway off the tee, then knocked an 8-iron to 4 feet and tapped in the birdie putt to get the first-round lead.
'I didn't think 8 under was out there,' admitted Kite, who won this year's 3M Championship. 'The course has been playing so long and the rough is so tough. When the greens are holding like they are, you feel like you can throw some darts.'
Kite is third on the elder circuit's money list, but has only one top-5 since early September. His driving accuracy has been plaguing him, but his approach shots bailed him out of trouble numerous times.
'I was a little errant with the tee ball,' said Kite, who hit only eight of 14 fairways on Thursday. 'The irons were right on and I was pleased with those. I made some really good swings the last few holes.'
Quigley collected three birdies in his first 11 holes. He reached the green in two at the 13th, and two-putted for birdie, triggering a run of three consecutive birdies.
At the par-3 17th, Quigley's tee ball stopped 5 feet from the hole. His birdie putt rimmed around the hole before falling in and putting him alone in second.
'To win the Charles Schwab Cup would be fantastic,' said Quigley, a New Englander, who praised the Red Sox victory. 'I think the Red Sox have taken the heat of my golf. I'm really not worried about the golf right now.'
Stadler, who with five wins seems to be a lock for Player of the Year, Morris Hatalsky and Jose Maria Canizares are tied for fourth place at 4-under-par 68.
U.S. Senior Open champion Peter Jacobsen, Jerry Pate and last week's runaway winner at the SBC Championship, Mark McNulty are knotted in seventh at 3-under-par 69.