Originally created 04/03/00

Kite sinks putt to beat Watson at Tradition



SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- This major was a major, and not just because they didn't cut the grass.

The fourth round at the Tradition that began with a final threesome of U.S. Open winners Tom Kite, Larry Nelson and Andy North ended Sunday when Kite sank a 1-foot birdie putt to beat Tom Watson on the sixth hole of a playoff.

"I'm still getting used to the Senior Tour and what everything is like," said Kite, who got his first win in five starts on the 50-and-over circuit. "But, golly, I mean it doesn't get any better than this -- you know, to have `Dueling Banjos' with Watson is what it's all about."

Nelson also finished regulation at 8-under-par 280, but blew a chance to win it outright when he two-putted from 5 feet on the 18th green. Then he bogeyed the second playoff hole, leaving Kite and Watson, two of three famous first-year players on the tour, to duel it out for another four holes.

The playoff was the longest since the 1997 Pittsburgh Senior Classic and fourth-longest in tour history.

"I think it was an exciting day," Nelson said. "Once I got over the putt on 18, and I could feel the excitement in myself, I had to really kind of calm myself before I got over to putt. It was nice to look up and see all the people."

Watson shot a 4-under 68, but had the most ground to make up. He opened the tournament with a 76, but carded a remarkable 66 on Friday when storms delayed play for four hours.

"It was satisfying from the standpoint of coming from last to first," said Watson, subdued by his second playoff loss in three official events. He also lost a playoff to Lanny Wadkins last month in Naples, Fla.

Nelson shot a 69 in the final round, and Kite, still trying to get comfortable with his putter, struggled to a 72.

The victory closed a gap for Kite, who won the 1992 U.S. Open and 18 other titles on the regular tour. He was the only one of the famed rookie trio of himself, Watson and Wadkins who had yet to win.

He also had seen only modest financial success, with one top-10 finish in his first four tournaments. But the $240,000 first prize sent Kite's earnings to $311,426 -- enough to jump from 49th to sixth on the money list.

Watson won one of two events he entered after turning 50 last fall, and Wadkins won the four-way playoff over Watson, Jose Maria Canizares and Walter Hall in Naples on Feb. 13.

Bruce Fleisher, the tour money leader, was fourth at 282, and Joe Inman followed at 283.

Gary McCord and North, who started two shots behind Kite, were four shots away from getting into the playoff, and John Jacobs had seventh to himself at 286.

The group of six at 287 included Jack Nicklaus, who shot a 5-under 67 to get onto the leaderboard.

The playoff began on No. 18, a 511-yard par-5, and, after all three birdied, the progression went to No. 17, a 194-yard par-3 that played toughest on the Cochise Course at Desert Mountain all tournament.

Nelson found that out when he hit his tee shot over the back fringe and chipped up, but two-putted from 5 feet.

From there, Kite and Watson had the spotlight to themselves as the gallery surged into the mesquite- and cactus-covered hills to the 17th green and back.

Watson nearly ended it on the fifth extra hole when, playing No. 18 for the fourth time, he hit his second shot into a sandy wash in front of the green. Playing out of a supposedly unplayable area, the five-time British Open champion chipped within 7 feet.

Earlier, Kite's third-shot pitch out of the rough landed 30 feet away. But both two-putted.

"I felt like I had more opportunities than Tom did to win it, so I left some out there," Watson said. "But that's the way it happens."

On the last playoff hole, Watson bounced his tee shot over the green, while Kite dropped a 6-iron next to the cup. It stopped a foot away.

"That lets me know what I have to do," Watson joked with the crowd. Then he nearly did it, lofting a high, 30-foot chip that bounced once and hit the flagstick, rolling 2 feet to the side as the gallery erupted in applause.

"If it had caught the pin just right, it could have gone in. I scared him a little bit," Watson said.

Watson putted out for par, then embraced Kite after he sank his birdie putt.