It's more than a new season for Tom Kite; more like a new beginning.
"Last year was a bit of a dud for me," said Kite, who finished out of golf's top-10 money-winners for the first time in five years and the second in 10.Kite, 41, made up three strokes on leader Lanny Wadkins in eight holes and pulled away to a 2-shot lead Saturday after three rounds of the Tournament of Champions, the first event on the PGA Tour season.
"This is almost like starting over again. I'm very excited about this year," he said. "You know how excited you are when you find something new."'
The "something new" is the return of his short game, the deft touch on and around the greens that has been the hallmark of a career that has made him golf's all-time leading money-winner.
"I didn't have it last year," he said. "Now it's back. I'm really excited about this year, no matter what happens tomorrow.
"No matter what happens tomorrow - even if I shoot 95 and I don't expect that to happen - I'm expecting a very good year."
"It's kind of fun to have a round with no bogeys this early in the year," Kite said after a 4-under-par 68, his third consecutive effort in the 60's.
He completed three rounds at 203, 13 under par on the chilly, foggy La Costa course.
Wadkins, also 41 and the leader through the first 36 holes, made only one birdie in the third round and slipped to a 73 that left him at 205.
Wadkins was tied at 11 under par, with Fred Couples. Couples, called "Boom Boom" by his fellow pros, closed up with a 67.
Chip Beck, with a 70 and a 207 total, was alone at 207 and was the only other golfer in the winners-only field with a real chance at the title going into Sunday's final round.
It was another three strokes back to Wayne Levi, John Huston and Bob Tway, tied at 210. Levi, a four-time winner last season, had a 69. Tway shot 70 and Huston 73.
With the injury absence of Lee Trevino in the separate but simultaneous competition for senior players, Bruce Crampton held a 4-stroke advantage.
Crampton shot 69 and was at 208. Frank Beard was a distant second at 68-212.