LAKE ORION, Mich.
- Tom Kite was atop the U.S. Senior Open leaderboard that was filled with names after the first round even casual fans know.
Bernhard Langer, who was a shot back, expected the stars to keep shining at the Champions Tour's fourth of five majors this year at Indianwood.
"You have a tremendous field, there's so many great players and legends of the game," he said. "It's a great test of golf. You're not going to get a champion that's a fluke. It's going to be somebody that's won a lot of tournaments and is a veteran in tournament competition.
"I think you're going to see a great leaderboard on the weekend."
Kite broke a U.S. Senior Open, nine-hole record with a 28 on the front nine and finished 5-under 65.
"You don't get rounds like that very often, especially in major championships," Kite said after matching his career-best, nine-hole score. "The hole just seemed large, and I was hitting some nice shots and, obviously, getting some good breaks."
Corey Pavin caught a bad break and it cost him a share of the lead heading into the start of the second round on Friday morning.
Pavin's sixth birdie on his 17th hole pulled him into a tie with Kite, but a penalty pushed him back to the pack after he completed his first round. He hit a chip after his ball moved back a fraction of an inch when he grounded his club on his 14th hole, and that later cost him two strokes.
"I could have done without a two-stroke penalty, but that's the rules, and they were enforced properly," Pavin said. "I saw it on tape, and it's definitely what happened. The ball moved."
That setback put Langer and Lance Ten Broeck in second place. It pushed Pavin into a five-way tie for fourth with Fred Funk, Jeff Sluman, Tom Pernice Jr., and Mikael Hogberg at 3-under 67.
"I just like the way I played," Pavin said. "That's the important thing now. There's three more rounds and lots of time to make it up and lots of golf left."
Kite is confident his window to win on the Champions Tour hasn't closed. The 62-year-old Kite expects players like him to have success more than a decade into their career on the 50-and-over circuit because they're staying in shape and relentlessly working on their game.
"You probably haven't read, but 60 is the new 40," Kite joked.
Kite, whose season-best finish was a tie for second four months ago at the Toshiba Classic, hasn't won on the Champions Tour since 2008.
He put himself in a position to end the drought on the front nine with an eagle from 155 yards at the 424-yard, par-4 No. 4 with a blind shot over a hill.
"The gallery let me know it went in the hole," Kite said. "So it must have run out nicely out of that semi-rough."
Kite also had five birdies before making the turn, leaving his playing partners — Peter Jacobsen and Scott Simpson — to marvel at his seven-under front nine.
"I felt like the Washington Generals playing against the Harlem Globetrotters out there," Jacobsen said. "He didn't miss a shot on the front nine."
Simpson said Kite played textbook golf to have his way with a course with tight fairways, thick rough and quick greens the USGA set up to be the hardest on the Champions Tour this year.
"I certainly didn't think there was a 28 out there," Simpson said.
Jacobsen, though, saw a breakout round coming from Kite after giving him lessons of sorts with Olin Browne recently at Pebble Beach.
"We gave him a couple ideas. They worked last week and they obviously were still working," Jacobsen said. "We all know each other's games and each other's swings, so we can tell when something is a little off and help each other out."
Kite had the best nine-hole score in a USGA championship. There were seven 29s, including three at the U.S. Open, most recently by Vijay Singh in 2003. Olin Browne had the previous U.S. Senior Open record for a nine-hole score, shooting a 29 on the back nine in the third round last year at Inverness.
Kite scrambled to save pars on the back nine, especially when his drive at the 490-yard, par-4 12th — perhaps the toughest hole on the course — went left and into water. He recovered with a jaw-dropping approach from 209 yards that set him up with a 4-foot par-saving putt.
"That was probably the best shot I had all day," he said.
Kite's worst swing cost him a relatively comfortable cushion, heading into the second round. His tee shot at the 195-yard, par-3 17th landed in ankle-high rough on a decline to the left of the green. His flop shot went about 2 feet, leading to a double bogey that turned his three-shot lead into a one-stroke edge at the time.
"Nobody's going to play 72 holes out here without having it jump up on a hole or two and kick `em in the rear, and it got me on 17," Kite said.
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