PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- At 51, Tom Kite is not slowing down at The Players Championship.
Kite, the oldest player competing this week, broke off the Senior PGA Tour to make his record 22nd cut Friday on the Stadium Course at TPC at Sawgrass.
Kite, who competed in the first Players in 1974, shared the previous mark with fellow Senior Tom Watson. Kite never has missed The Players Championship and made the cut all but five of those tournaments.
"I didn't know that," said Kite, who was at 1-under 143 after a 73. "That makes this even more special."
Kite has won 19 times during his PGA Tour career, including the 1989 Players and the 1992 U.S. Open. But in his second full Senior season, Kite cherishes the time at his old workplace.
"It is great to come back here and play with the guys on the regular tour," he said. "It's nice to hang in there ... and hang around my friends again."
Early on, Kite looked more than a sidelight at the Players.
After outdriving partners Stuart Appleby and Ian Woosnam at the par-4 fourth hole, Kite spun a wedge to about 4 feet for a birdie, moving three back of then leader Paul Azinger.
His putting had been so consistent this week, he said, "I thought maybe I could do something."
Kite's dependable ball striking then deserted him for a time. He pushed an approach at No. 7 into the right rough for a bogey. When he drove into a stand of palm trees at No. 12, it led to his second straight bogey and dropped him to par.
Kite guaranteed he'd be around for the weekend with a 15-foot birdie at the 17th hole's island green, but he had to scramble to stay there.
A wayward drive into the spectator's hill on the right side at No. 18 left Kite vulnerable to the 6s and 7s others have taken on the spectacular closing hole. But Kite pitched safely to about 170 yards away, bounced an iron about 10 feet from the cup and made the saving par.
"In terms of the score, I'm pleased with that, but I didn't give myself a lot of birdie opportunities," Kite said. "And when you're putting as well as I am right now, if I can just get it on the fairway and on the greens a little I've got a chance to do some stuff."
He will be at Colonial in May and the U.S. Open at Southern Hills in June. "Hopefully, I can get into the PGA Championship and maybe there'll be a couple more after that," he said.
Kite doesn't mind being "low Senior" at PGA Tour events, a role that gained Jack Nicklaus notoriety whenever he stepped off the Senior PGA Tour and played like a star. Kite says if he's gaining attention, it generally means he's playing well.
Kite feels he's hitting the ball better than ever the past two years and there are instances of older stars rising up one last time. Hale Irwin was 48 when he won at Harbour Town in 1994. Tom Watson also was 48 when he won the Colonial in 1998.
Kite says course set-ups for the Seniors get more like the regular tour every week. "I'm not going to kid you into thinking they are as tough as this course, but you have to hit quality shots all the time," he said.
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