Golf

US Open countdown: Tom Kite removes label of ‘best player to never win a major’

92nd U.S. Open/June 18-21, 1992

Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Links, Calif.

Leaderboard

Tom Kite, United States 71 - 72 - 70 - 72 285
Jeff Sluman, United States 73 - 74 - 69 - 71 287
Colin Montgomerie, Scotland 70 - 71 - 77 - 70 288
Nick Faldo, England 70 - 76 - 68 - 77 291
Nick Price, Zimbabwe 71 - 72 - 77 - 71 291

A year after Hale Irwin became the oldest champion in U.S. Open history, the success of the 40-something golfers continued with this first-time major winner.

Tom Kite had long been regarded as one of the best players never to win a major. In fact, considering that he blew golden opportunities at the 1986 Masters and the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill, where he had a three-shot lead in the final round, some wondered if he would ever win one.

But on a blustery Sunday, with greens so firm and hard that former U.S. Open winner Raymond Floyd compared the surface to a “parking lot,” Kite negotiated the harsh conditions better than anyone.

He tied overnight leader Gil Morgan with a birdie at the first hole. But the key exchange came later on the front nine.

With his golf ball nestled in gnarly rough alongside the green at No. 7 — a short, downhill par 3 — Kite watched as his chip ran across the green and drop into the hole for an improbable birdie.

Behind Kite at the sixth hole, Morgan was in all sorts of trouble and eventually stumbled to a double bogey. Morgan would go on and shoot an 81 to fall to 13th place.

It was one of the most noteworthy meltdowns in championship history. Just the day before, Morgan had reached 12 under in the third round, a tournament record.

Kite shot a solid 72 on a day when the scoring average was 77.3 strokes, third-highest in the post-World War II era.

After he finished with a two-putt par on the 18th hole to win his first national open in 21 tries, Kite, 42, showed as much relief as excitement, echoing his feelings to reporters after the round.

Holding the label as the best player to never win a major, “bugged the living daylights out of me,” Kite said.

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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