BETHESDA, Md. – Just days after failing to keep his U.S. Open streak alive, Tom Kite put himself in position to become the oldest winner in PGA Tour history.

The 55-year-old Kite sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, bent his knees, punched the air with a fist and waved to the crowd to celebrate a 5-under 66 that put him on top of the leaderboard with a round to play in the Booz Allen Classic.

Kite’s birdie – his third in the last four holes – broke a six-way tie and gave him a 10-under 203 total, one stroke ahead of Ernie Els, Stuart Appleby, Adam Scott, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Steve Elkington on a leaderboard that was gridlocked all day. Sixteen players are within two shots of the lead.

Earlier this week, Kite went to nearby Rockville and tried and failed to qualify for next week’s U.S. Open – a tournament he won in 1992 and hasn’t missed since 1973. He hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 1993. His last Champions Tour victory was at the 3M Championship a year ago.

Kite is playing the PGA Tour this year on a special one-time exemption available to players in the top 50 on the career money list. He has made just three cuts in 10 events on the regular tour.

If Kite can hold on today – a daunting task considering the players on his heels – he would surpass Sam Snead as the tour’s oldest winner. Snead was 52 when he won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open.

Kite has rounds of 68, 69 and 66 on the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club, which has been surprisingly tame after a storm softened the greens early in the week. Even so, the back nine can still be brutal, but that’s where Kite made his move.

Sorenstam cruising

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. – The second leg of the Grand Slam might be easier than the first one for Annika Sorenstam, who blew away the field Saturday in the LPGA Championship with her 14th consecutive round in the 60s to take a five-shot lead into the final round.

Despite a bogey on the final hole and again failing to make birdie on any of the par 5s at Bulle Rock, Sorenstam walked away with a 3-under 69 and hardly any worries.

Laura Davies self-destructed on two short putts, squandered her hopes with one tee shot and ended with a sloppy double bogey for a 2-over 74 that left her seven shots behind.

Sorenstam, who was at 12-under 204, will be paired in the final round with Young Kim, who had a 68 and was one of the few players who put up a steady fight on a scorching afternoon at Bulle Rock.

Michelle Wie held her own, too.

The 15-year-old from Hawaii punched a wedge into 3 feet for birdie on the 18th hole and a 1-under 71, leaving her in a five-way tie for third at 211. But just like everyone else, the prospects of winning are bleak as ever – in part because of the margin, primarily because of the player they are chasing.

“Anything is possible,” Wie said. “I’ll just put the ball so close to the hole I won’t have to putt.”

Wie will play in the second-to-last group with Jeong Jang, who shot a 69. Also at 5-under 211 were Natalie Gulbis, who bogeyed three of her first four holes but recovered for a 73, and Moira Dunn (72).

Davies was the only who threatened Sorenstam until one bad shot wrecked a tremendous comeback.

After four birdies on the back nine to get within three shots, Davies again took a crack with her driver on the 330-yard 16th hole. This one strayed far to the right, in weeds that brushed up against her waist. The grass was so thick that even with her strength, Davies whacked a wedge with all her might to move it some 30 feet.

She hit a wedge to 6 feet and missed the putt for bogey, while Sorenstam hit a sand wedge out of the rough to 10 feet for a birdie, a two-shot swing that was devastating to Davies’ chances.

Sorenstam poured it on with another birdie from 6 feet on the 17th, and Davies finished by hitting an iron off the tee and into the rough, then three-putting for double bogey.

“I know what Laura is all about,” Sorenstam said. “As a spectator, it’s fun to watch. I try not to watch too much. She plays with her heart. I like to say I play with my brain.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this conclusion.

Sorenstam has only blown a five-shot lead once in her career, at the 2001 State Farm Classic, at a time when she was not nearly this dominant.

She has won her last six tournaments when leading going into the final round, including the Kraft Nabisco, where early birdies proved to be a knockout punch and Sunday turned into a stroll.

“Hopefully, tomorrow I can enjoy it, play good golf and walk away with the trophy and good memories,” she said.

A victory would give her the second leg of the Grand Slam, with the U.S. Women’s Open only two weeks away at Cherry Hills and no one close to Sorenstam in golf.

For Davies, it was a golden opportunity to earn the final two points she needs for the Hall of Fame, although she let it get away from her quickly, and at times, shockingly.

Haunted by putting woes that have contributed to four years without an LPGA Tour victory, Davies missed an 18-inch par putt on the opening hole, and a 2-foot putt on the ninth hole to make double bogey.

Sorenstam knocked in a 4-foot birdie putt at No. 1, and just like that, her lead doubled to four shots. That’s when the murmurs began among the 20,000 fans at Bulle Rock that it would be another ceremonial Sunday at an LPGA major.

The players in front of her continued to drop shots, a testament to the course getting tougher. Sorenstam surged ahead, a testament to the best player in the game.

AP-ES-06-11-05 1918EDT


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