BETHESDA -- When 55-year-old Tom Kite birdied the 18th hole and took a one-stroke lead after 54 holes of the $5 million Booz Allen Classic yesterday, the 33-year pro joked that for a moment, he thought he was on the Champions Tour instead of the PGA Tour.
"Heck, if this was the Champions Tour, they'd be giving me the trophy right now," Kite quipped. "It's supposed to end after three rounds, isn't it? Obviously, I was just pleased [with] making some putts and hitting the ball like that and getting into contention."
On a day when the greens at the par-71, 7,232-yard Blue Course at Congressional Country Club continued to be soft and yield numerous birdie opportunities, Kite took advantage and vaulted himself into position to overtake Sam Snead as the oldest golfer to win a PGA Tour event.
(Snead won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open at 52 years, 10 months and eight days. Kite, who was born on Dec. 9, 1949, is 55 years, six months and three days.)
Kite, who entered the third round tied for 11th place with a two-day total of 5-under 137 and four strokes behind leader Robert Allenby, shot a 66 for a score of 10-under 203.
Kite, who made six birdies and had a bogey on the par-4 fourth, made his run by birdieing three of the final four holes of the back nine.
On the par-5 15th, he wedged a shot from 106 yards to within 3 feet of the hole for birdie. After pushing a 7-iron from 162 yards to the right side of the green at the par-4 16th, Kite made a 32-foot putt over a ridge that bisected the green for birdie.
On the par-3 18th, he used a 6-iron from 192 yards to send the ball within 13 feet of the hole and sidled the putt inside the right edge of the hole.
Kite has used the PGA Tour's career top-50 money list exemption to play more events. Kite, who had competed in just 13 PGA Tour tournaments in the previous four years while playing the Champions Tour, has missed six cuts in nine tournaments this year, and his best outing was a tie for 72nd place at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
"I wouldn't have been in the top 10 in the Firecracker Fourth of July Golf Tournament in Austin, Texas," Kite said, acknowledging his struggles on the Tour this season. "I was not a factor at all. ... And that was disappointing. Obviously, it gave a lot of people who thought that what I was doing was foolish a lot of ammunition and gave them a right to blast me for something that they perceived as foolish. Fortunately, I wasn't doing it for them. I was doing it for me. I'm pleased that I'm playing well now."
Kite, who will miss the U.S. Open next weekend for the first time since 1973, had said that this year would be his last on the PGA Tour, but added that he would reconsider if he earned a spot in the top 125, which would guarantee his PGA Tour card for next year.
For now, the 1992 U.S. Open titlist and 1987 winner of the Kemper Open -- Booz Allen's predecessor -- said he will concentrate on the 15 players who are within two shots of the lead.
World No. 3 and three-time major champion Ernie Els shot 68 to sit at 9-under 204. He is joined by defending champion Adam Scott (69), 1998 Kemper Open titlist Stuart Appleby (65), Luke Donald (67), Steve Elkington (69) and Lee Westwood (69).
"There's a lot of guys in there, a lot of great players," Els said. "It's anybody's golf tournament tomorrow. You've got to stay steady, and it's going to be one of those classics."
Today's tee times
8:58 a.m.: Michael Allen, Dennis Paulson
9:06 a.m.: Rocco Mediate, Olin Browne
9:14 a.m.: Len Mattiace, Brenden Pappas
9:22 a.m.: Joey Sindelar, Brandt Jobe
9:30 a.m.: Jerry Kelly, Fredrik Jacobson
9:38 a.m.: Tom Pernice Jr., Ted Purdy
9:46 a.m.: Jonathan Kaye, Retief Goosen
9:54 a.m.: Richard Green, Daniel Chopra
10:02 a.m.: James Driscoll, Jeff Sluman
10:10 a.m.: Kevin Sutherland, Mark Calcavecchia
10:18 a.m.: Bo Van Pelt, Kevin Stadler
10:26 a.m.: Billy Mayfair, Jonathan Byrd
10:34 a.m.: Carl Pettersson, Chris DiMarco
10:42 a.m.: Brad Faxon, Loren Roberts
10:50 a.m.: Geoff Ogilvy, Paul Goydos
11:08 a.m.: Jeff Maggert, Bill Glassonm
11:17 a.m.: Neal Lancaster, Tom Byrum
11:26 a.m.: J.L. Lewis, Vijay Singh
11:35 a.m.: Fred Funk, Bob Estes
11:44 a.m.: Tommy Armour III, Joey Snyder III
11:53 a.m.: Steve Allan, Joe Durant
12:02 p.m.: Craig Barlow, Kirk Triplett
12:11 p.m.: Ryuji Imada, Jason Bohn
12:20 p.m.: Shigeki Maruyama, Rod Pampling
12:29 p.m.: Davis Love III, Jim Furyk
12:38 p.m.: Chad Campbell, Brett Quigley
12:47 p.m.: Matt Gogel, Robert Allenby
12:56 p.m.: Ben Crane, Rory Sabbatini
1:05 p.m.: Phil Mickelson, Alex Cejka
1:14 p.m.: Zach Johnson, Sergio Garcia
1:23 p.m.: Adam Scott, Brett Wetterich
1:32 p.m.: Lee Westwood, Steve Elkington
1:41 p.m.: Luke Donald, Ernie Els
1:50 p.m.: Tom Kite, Stuart Appleby