Couples leads Sr. PGA by one stroke

Updated: May 29, 2010, 1:28 AM ET
Associated Press

PARKER, Colo. -- Tom Kite doesn't mind that the thin air, hilly terrain and erratic wind gusts at the Colorado Golf Club conspire to favor the younger golfers on the senior circuit.

Kite still considers himself a whippersnapper after celebrating his 60th birthday in December, a point that's hard to argue as he sits in second place halfway through the 71st Senior PGA Championship, a single stroke behind Fred Couples.

Couples shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, putting him at 7 under after 36 holes. He had the best round of the day despite teeing off in the afternoon, when the winds picked up after a lull.

[+] EnlargeTom Kite
Marc Feldman/Getty ImagesTom Kite, one off the lead at the Senior PGA Championship, is angling to become just the 19th hexagenarian to win on the Champions Tour.

Tom Lehman (71) is two strokes behind Couples, and Lu Chien Soon (70) and Jay Don Blake (69) are tied for fourth, three shots back.

Bernhard Langer, the co-leader along with Robin Freeman after the first round, was making an impressive charge on the back nine until a double-bogey on No. 17 and a bogey on 18 left him with a 3-over 75, same as Freeman.

They are tied with Nick Price (71), four shots off the pace.

All those familiar names had Couples harkening back to the 1990s when this group of golfers made a name for themselves on the PGA Tour.

"It's a great leaderboard, that's for sure," Couples said. "A lot of great players."

After turning the requisite 50-years-old in October, Couples has energized the Champions Tour, winning half of the six events he's entered this season.

He's trying to become the 12th golfer to win the Senior PGA Championship on his first attempt, something Kite came tantalizingly close to doing himself in 2000, when he finished second to Doug Tewell. Kite is aiming for one of golf's true rarities, winning a tournament in his 60s. Of the 915 tournaments in Champions Tour history, only 18 have been won by hexagenerians.

"I have that as a goal," Kite said after his second straight 69 moved him to 6 under. "I work hard on my conditioning and my game to try to make it last and I'm very pleased with where my game is right now. I think that at some point I will win in my 60s. And I look forward to that day. I hope it's this weekend."

Why not?

Only Couples has done better on the 3-year-old course co-designed by Ben Crenshaw that cuts through open meadows, wooded hillsides and streams on wind-swept, picturesque land where the Rockies meet the plains.

If he etches his name into the silver trophy that awaits the winner Sunday along with a $360,000 cut of the $2 million purse, Kite will become the oldest golfer to win the Senior PGA championship since the Champions Tour began in 1980.

Hale Irwin was three days shy of his 59th birthday when he won it in 2004.

Although the winds died down for much of the second round Friday, the scores didn't exactly drop accordingly, and the gusts picked up again in the afternoon.

The midday break in the winds provided the first calm conditions all week and took many by surprise.

"We kept expecting it to pick up because the forecast was at noon it was going to start blowing and at 1 it was going to really start howling and at 3 o'clock it was going to be knocking your hat off," Kite said. "And right now it's about a 3 mph wind out there."

The winds returned in the afternoon and evening, much to the delight of Blake.

After a blustery start to his round, Blake, of St. George, Utah, made the turn at 1 over but he played the front nine at 5 under thanks to calmer winds and damper greens that at once delighted and disturbed the golfers who had dealt with 35 mph gusts Thursday.

"I'm not cheering bad for anybody," Blake said, "but I'm hoping the winds blow this afternoon because we had it pretty bad yesterday."

He got his wish with winds of 15-20 mph and gusts to 30.

"As soon as I walked on the range, it was blowing," Couples said. "Nothing like they were predicting, but it blew pretty much from the first hole on."

When the winds diminished midmorning, the golfer switched to 7- and 8-irons on the long par 4s instead of 3- and 4-irons, and sticking shots became much easier on greens that weren't baked bone-dry by the afternoon sun and whipping winds that parched the private course that opened just three years ago.

"You couldn't stop a sand wedge yesterday," Blake said. "It would bounce like it hit cement almost. And you couldn't control it. Today, you kind of knew it would take. I mean, they're still not soft. It will take a harder little skip up there and then it'll check. Yesterday, they weren't checking at all."

The 7,399-yard setup that played to a par-72 is drawing praise from the field for its toughness.

"When you're playing in 20 and 30 mph winds and you're trying to judge shots, it's not too easy to do," Couples said. "It's a very good layout. It's hard and it's long. If it's long for me, I'm sure it's long for a lot of other people."


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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