Golf: The high-flyer Kite brought down to earth: American has nightmare at first

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The Independent Online
NOBODY has won more money on the United States tour than Tom Kite and nobody has played the first hole at Tryall as badly as the bespectacled American. Yesterday he hacked it to pieces in the second round of the Johnnie Walker World Championship.

Kite's career earnings to date are dollars 10.6m and even if he doesn't win a coconut here for his play he will receive a minimum of dollars 50,000. That is the prize for finishing last. Kite, who is 44, won the US Open Championship at Pebble Beach last year but did not win one of the events this season that would have gained him automatic entry to this event. Instead he got in by virtue of his standing in the Sony world rankings.

In the global pecking order Kite is eighth and the figure haunted him yesterday. A ripple of applause greeted his presence on the first tee. Admission here is free and transportation to the course is also provided but you could not say that they were flocking in. With a worldwide television audience estimated at around 400m people the presence at the gate is not the most important factor in the minds of the sponsors.

Kite responded to the applause by touching his straw hat. Left of the fairway is trouble in the shape of flora and fauna, to the right the Caribbean and Kite drove his ball left and it nestled behind a palm tree. Not even a palmist could have guessed what would happen next.

Kite flailed at the ball and it hardly moved; he flailed at it again with the same result. Then he decided that caution was the better part of valour and took a penalty drop. Playing five he careered across the fairway and did not even reach the green with his sixth shot. Still short of the green, he had trouble finding his ball which was plugged in lush rough. He took a free drop, chipped on and rolled in a putt from about 35 feet for a quadruple-bogey eight. How do you like them bananas?

The first hole, which measures 472 yards, is one of the most formidable on the course. Par is a good score there and even a five is respectable. Only one player, Gordon Brand Jnr, managed to birdie it in the second round. At the second hole Kite hit his approach to within 10 feet of the flag and sank the putt for a birdie three. He went to the turn in 40, his playing partner Ian Woosnam in 38.

Both were way off the pace which was set by Larry Mize of America and Steve Elkington, an Australian who lives in Texas. Mize had four birdies in a row from the sixth and went to the turn in 31. He had two more birdies over the back nine in a round of 66, which would have been even better but for a six at the 14th. Elkington went one better with a 65 that included four birdies and an eagle three at the 17th. He and Mize lead the field at the halfway stage on 133, nine under par.

Elkington and Mize are three strokes in front of Colin Montgomerie and four in front of the Italian Costantino Rocca. Montgomerie rallied strongly over the back nine after going to the turn in 38. That included two bogeys and a double-bogey and he came home in 31, courtesy of five birdies. Rocca, who had such a bitterly disappointing climax in the Ryder Cup when he was defeated in the singles, was paired with Nick Faldo. Rocca shot 66, Faldo 72. 'It was a great achievement to outplay him,' Rocca said. Faldo had a disspiriting finish with bogeys at the 16th and 17th and the defending champion retreated to the practice ground. Faults in his technique clearly still exist.

Kite and Ben Crenshaw are from Texas, a part of America where you would have thought sales of rye exceeded that of scotch. 'It is tremendously important to have players from countries which have big whisky markets,' Lord Macfarlane, chairman of United Distillers, said.

Thus he was positively chuffed at the presence of a Japanese player, Seiki Okuda, for they drink whisky in Japan like it was going out of fashion. Unfortunately Okuda is nowhere near the leaderboard. After a 79 in the first round he shot 72 yesterday and at nine over par he was grateful the event does not have a half-way cut. What it does have is a thumping dollars 2.7m ( pounds 1.8m) in prize-money. The winner gets dollars 550,000 ( pounds 370,000).

Despite that the World Championship has failed to attract several leading players, notably Greg Norman and Nick Price, who are managed by Mark McCormack's IMG, the company that devised and promotes the tournament of behalf of Johnnie Walker. This is the third year of the championship and Lord Macfarlane said the company would decide in January whether to continue or not.

When he returns home he and his team will distil the data. 'We have to decide,' he said, 'whether we get our money's worth. Sponsorship is not a charity.'

JOHNNIE WALKER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Montego Bay, Jamaica) Second-round scores: 133 S Elkington (Aus) 68 65; L Mize (US) 67 66. 136 C Montgomerie (GB) 67 69. 137 C Rocca (It) 71 66. 138 F Allem (SA) 69 69; B Faxon (US) 69 69. 139 E Els (SA) 66 73; B Langer (Ger) 71 68. 140 F Couples (US) 71 69; 141 C Strange (US) 73 68. 142 N Faldo (GB) 70 72; V Singh (Fiji) 72 70. 143 D Frost (SA) 69 74; D Love (US) 73 70; J Maggert (US) 76 67. 144 S Richardson (GB) 73 71; 146 G Brand Jnr (GB) 70 76; B Crenshaw (US) 75 71; I Woosnam (GB) 73 73. 147 T Kite (US) 73 74; C Pavin (US) 72 75; S Torrance (GB) 73 74. 148 J Parnevik (Swe) 74 74. 149 J Gallagher Jnr (US) 73 76; L Janzen (US) 73 76. 150 B Hughes (Aus) 76 74. 151 S Okuda (Japan) 79 72. 152 P Baker (GB) 74 78.

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