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Kite Looks for Happy New Year : Golf: He loses his mentor and finishes 104th on money list. He and Haas share Shootout lead.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Back when he was flying high, Tom Kite could look through glasses the size of a windshield and direct a putt toward a hole that looked as big as his hat.

Not this year. The winner of 19 tournaments in his 22-year career, Kite couldn’t buy another victory even though he certainly could afford one.

Kite has been around long enough to bank $9.1 million in prize money but not nearly long enough to get used to what happened to him this year.

How did it go wrong? Let us count the ways.

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“My confidence was low, my putting stroke was bad, my swing was crappy,” said Kite, who, with partner Jay Haas, shared the first-round lead in the Franklin Templeton Shark Shootout. “I didn’t have a whole lot going for me.”

Otherwise, it was a banner year for Kite, 45, who won less money than he had in 15 years. Kite earned $178,580 and finished 104th on the money list, the lowest he has been since he earned $2,582 as a 23-year-old rookie in 1972.

No, it wasn’t a pleasant experience for Kite. But there is some good news. The year is almost over.

“Certainly this is a year I would just as soon forget about the way I played,” he said.

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Kite had one top-10 finish, ranked No. 231 in putting, drove shorter than he had in years, lost his lifelong golf teacher when Harvey Penick died and, generally, played like someone who was having an off year.

Hey, he’s entitled. Kite would simply prefer it doesn’t happen again. To make sure, he pulled out some videotapes from 1992 and ’93.

Kite noticed something and now is driving longer, which has affected the rest of his game. He’s keeping the ball in play and making a few putts, which is what he was busy doing Friday at Sherwood Country Club.

“I’m glad I’m headed in the right direction,” Kite said.

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Kite and Haas shot eight-under par 64 in the alternate-shot format, the same as Mark Calcavecchia and Steve Elkington.

Kite and Haas have never been paired together and didn’t play a practice round at Sherwood until Wednesday’s pro-am. That was enough for Kite to form an opinion on how he expected to play.

“I’m not too concerned with my partner this week,” Kite said. “I’m concerned with my partner’s partner.”

Kite said he couldn’t help but be affected by the death of Penick just before the Masters. Kite missed the cut.

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“Not having Mr. Penick around to bounce some ideas off of has been detrimental,” Kite said. “Gosh, I still miss him. It’s very difficult to not go a day without thinking about him an awful lot.”

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How far is far? If it’s Calcavecchia and he has a driver in his hand, it’s really far.

On Sherwood’s 425-yard No. 6, Calcavecchia hit his drive 334 yards. Elkington knew that because he measured 91 yards to the hole for a second shot.

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“Mark just absolutely shellacked it,” Elkington said.

On the 541-yard No. 13, Calcavecchia drove it just short of 300 yards.

“That’s not bad, I guess,” Elkington said. “Center of the fairway too.”

One shot behind co-leaders Kite-Haas and Calcavecchia-Elkington are two groups at seven-under 65--Lee Janzen-Chip Beck and Greg Norman-Raymond Floyd.

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