There are degrees of satisfaction in winning and Tom Kite rated his victory Sunday in the Infiniti Tournament of Champions at La Costa as one to savor.
“You want to beat the best, so this is a pleasing win,” Kite said.
He beat his longtime adversary, Lanny Wadkins, by one stroke to earn $144,000 in the first tour event of the year.
“Lanny is such a great player. You take pride in beating a player of that caliber,” Kite said.
The 41-year-old players engaged in a tense duel with two significant lead changes.
Kite began the round with a two-shot advantage over Wadkins and Fred Couples and pushed it to three with a 35-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole. However, Wadkins caught Kite and passed him with birdies at the 12th, 13th and 14th holes while Kite was bogeying No. 14.
Then, Wadkins, playing one hole ahead of Kite, bogeyed the par-five, 17th when he three-putted from 18 feet.
“I learned that Lanny had bogeyed the 17th after I hit my third shot on the same hole,” Kite said.
Kite birdied the 16th hole with a 20-foot putt and was ahead again by one stroke.
He didn’t relinquish his lead, getting a par at No. 17 and then hitting a six-iron to within eight feet of the cup on the last hole, where he easily two-putted for his victory.
Kite shot a three-under-par 69, for a 72-hole total of 272, 16-under. Wadkins had a 68.
It was the 15th career victory for Kite, the all-time leading money winner, and he said that he’s determined to make 1991 the best year he has ever had.
Kite is one of the game’s elite players and only a victory in a major championship, U.S. and British Opens, Masters and PGA, has prevented him from achieving all of his goals.
At his peak, Kite is still motivated to win as many tournaments as he can and, perhaps, guarantee himself a niche in an historical context.
“As long as I can remain healthy there’s no reason that I shouldn’t perform as well as I ever have and as long as I want to,” Kite said. “Lanny and I are the same age, and we just have a lot of things that we want to do in our careers that we haven’t done yet.
“Some of the other players of our age may have been a little bit more successful earlier, and they fulfilled their dreams and it’s hard to get jacked up. There are still a lot of things I want to do.
“The more tournaments you win the better you’re going to be rated when it’s all said and done. So, if you can pick and choose your tournaments, you start at the top and work your way down.”
That was an indirect reference to the major tournaments.
Kite said he’s not a patient person but added that patience won the tournament for him.
He started fast with birdies at the second and third holes, then he bogeyed the par-four fifth hole.
However, he got birdies at the eighth and 10th holes, bogeyed the 14th and then got the significant birdie at the 16th.
Kite said that he was geared to make another birdie at No. 17. “I wanted to close Lanny out,” he said, after settling for his par.
While Kite and Wadkins battled, others moved up. Wayne Levi, who won four tournaments last year, shot a six-under-par 66.
He finished in a third place tie at 276 with Couples (71) and Chip Beck (69).
Wadkins, who earned $86,400, seemingly wasn’t disturbed by his second-place finish.
“I really can’t complain about the way I played,” he said. “I got the ball around the hole, but I didn’t make a lot of putts. Unfortunately, I kicked it away on 17.”
Wadkins said he stroked his first putt too hard and it went three to four feet past the hole.
“Then, I didn’t make a good stroke and pulled it (second putt),” he said.
Wadkins still had a chance to force a playoff with a birdie at the par-four, 421-yard 18th hole.
He was visibly upset when his five-iron second shot landed about 35 feet from the cup.
“I just pulled it a hair left,” he said.
Wadkins two-putted for his par, and Kite wrapped up the championship with his par on the last hole.