Kite's eagles keep him ahead of Haas, Roberts in Sonoma

Saturday, October 28th 2006, 7:43 am
By: News On 6

SONOMA, Calif. (AP) _ Tom Kite eagled the par-4 11th hole for the second straight round and finished with a 4-under 68 to take a one-stroke lead over Jay Haas and Jim Thorpe on Friday in the Champions Tour's Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Kite's 76-yard wedge shot on the 11th energized the crowd at Sonoma Golf Club and put the Texan in a familiar position in the tournament he nearly won two years ago. He had two eagles on par-4 holes in the opening round Thursday, including a similar wedge shot with a similar backspin roll on the 11th.

``What are the odds?'' Kite asked. ``It's just crazy stuff, to have that happen. You can hit good shots, but the odds of it going in are remote. To do that twice, it's pretty amazing.''

Kite bogeyed the final two holes to finish at 8-under 135 and tighten up the field in the season-ending event. Eight players were within three strokes at the midway point _ including Haas and Loren Roberts, who are battling for most of the tour's season-ending awards.

``I don't think that's a huge surprise that they both played well,'' Kite said of Haas and Roberts, who both matched the day's best round at 66. ``It's going to be a shootout, a real barn-burner the next couple of days.''

Opening-round leader Thorpe shot a 70 to fall back into a tie with Haas, who warmed up for his beloved St. Louis Cardinals' possible World Series-ending game Friday night with a 6-under round equaled by Roberts, Bobby Wadkins and Gil Morgan.

Haas needed just 30 shots to finish the back side, tying Kite's 2003 record for the lowest nine-hole score in Sonoma. Haas had four birdies and a 16th-hole eagle, saying, ``I've never seen greens as good as these.''

``I guess I pay attention to what everybody is doing,'' Haas said. ``There's not many sports that you don't look at the scoreboard. ... Both of us are going to win this week. It's still a fantastic year for both of us.''

Haas' duel with Roberts for the $1 million annuity awarded to the winner of the season-long Schwab Cup points race has come down to the final event, with just 126 points separating them. Their rivalry has energized the senior circuit, with both players combining for seven victories and more than $4.5 million in earnings.

But it's the definition of a friendly rivalry.

``Jay Haas is such a great guy, and we've been friends for years and years,'' Roberts said. ``It's been fun to go back and forth all year. We're going to have fun, and I hope it goes all the way down to the final nine holes on Sunday.''

Still, all this competition couldn't distract Haas _ a St. Louis native _ from enjoying the Cardinals' attempt to win the World Series later that night.

``I might do room service tonight,'' he said while recalling the Cards' championships related to him by radio announcers Jack Buck and Harry Caray during his youth in the 1960s. ``I'm pretty sure I'll see every pitch.''

Morgan, who turned 60 last month, charged into contention with four birdies on the first six holes. He added three more in a steady 6-under performance after only shooting par in the opening round.

Morgan and Hale Irwin have lost their longtime dominance of the Champions Tour with Haas, Roberts and the latest 50-somethings in the field, but both veterans still challenge for the biggest prizes. Morgan is fourth on the money list despite that decade's advantage for Haas and other stars.

``It's about time for us to change the guard here,'' said Morgan after his 21st straight round at par or lower. ``Guys are stronger and more competitive at a later age on the tour now ... (but) there's a factor there, not quite having the desire you've had. It gets to be more of a grind, like when you were on the regular tour late in your career.''