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Kite Sails to Royal Caribbean Lead

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Tom Kite carded a 4-under-par 68 on Friday to take the first-round lead of the Royal Caribbean Golf Classic at Crandon Park Golf Club.
Former U.S. Senior Open champions Bruce Fleisher and Don Pooley, Bruce Summerhays, J.C. Snead and NBC commentator Gary Koch share second place at 3-under-par 69.
Swirling winds made play difficult on Friday. Only 14 players broke par in the first round and Kite, a Texas native known for his strong iron play in the wind, took advantage.
Kite broke out quickly Friday with a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-5 first. He parred the next six holes but made a mess of the par-three eighth hole. Kite hit a 9-iron 50 feet long then missed an eight-footer to save par.
Kite was able to make the turn at 1 under thanks to an 18-foot birdie putt at No. 9.
The 1992 U.S. Open champion broke out of the gate right away on the second nine. He drained a 10-footer for birdie at the 10th, then added a 15-foot birdie putt at the next hole.
He mis-clubbed on the 13th hole and left a wedge short of the green. Kite chipped to five feet and missed the par-saving putt.
The end of Kite's round vaulted him into the lead. He sank a 19-foot birdie putt at the 16th and tapped in a birdie putt at the par-5 closing hole to shoot his 16th consecutive round under par, but post the highest score to lead this event after the opening round since 1992.
'It was a good solid round,' said Kite, a six-time winner on the Champions Tour. 'Anything under par is a good score today. This course is playing long. It was tough to get it close to the pin.'
Fleisher, a two-time winner of this event, collected three birdies in his opening 10 holes. He sprayed a couple of iron shots and made bogey at 11 and 13, but tallied a pair of birdies in his final three holes.
'There were really tough conditions out there,' said Fleisher. 'It's nice to get this one under your belt. The course played exceptionally long and we had some tough pin placements.'
Pooley and Summerhays each mixed five birdies and two bogeys on Friday but Koch, who ranked 73rd on last year's Champions Tour money list, was flawless with three birdies, all on the back nine, and no bogeys.
'I hit all nine greens on the front and all were two putts,' said Koch. 'I made a couple of nice up-and-downs.'
Tom Purtzer and Wayne Levi, both winners last season on the elder circuit, share seventh place after opening with rounds of 2-under-par 70.
Lonnie Nielsen, who earned his card through Qualifying School, Morris Hatalsky, Andy Bean, Dana Quigley, Joe Inman and Ed Fiori are tied for ninth at minus-1.
Former European Ryder Cup captains Mark James, who is making his debut on the over-50 tour, and Sam Torrance are part of a group tied for 31st at plus-1. Former U.S. Open winner Jerry Pate's debut was not as solid as James'. Pate shot a 7-over 79 and is tied for 75th.
Dave Barr, the defending champion, posted a 5-over 77 and is tied for 69th.
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - Royal Caribbean Classic
  • Full Coverage - Royal Caribbean Classic