- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tom Kite is stunned by persistent rumors the Washington area might lose its PGA Tour stop.

The veteran won the event when it was first held at Potomac’s TPC at Avenel in 1987. Now he conceivably could be playing in the final tournament at the course.

“I think it’s a travesty,” Kite said. “How you cannot have a tournament in our nation’s capital [I don’t know], especially a tournament that has been this good throughout the years.”

Kite, who is playing on a sponsor’s exemption, generated interest last year when he led after three rounds before a final-round 74 across the street at Congressional Country Club. It was the highlight of his return to the tour, one made possible when Kite used a one-time exemption as one of the top 50 in career earnings.

Kite, 56, played only two more PGA Tour events after the Booz Allen, returning to a heavy Champions Tour schedule. The Booz Allen is the first tournament Kite has played on the regular tour this year, and he says it might be his only foray away from his Champions Tour slate.

“Unless I try to qualify for the [U.S.] Open next year and if I make it, that could be my last PGA Tour event or something like that,” Kite said. “Really, these are getting to be few and far between now because I have no access to the tour. I’m kind of enjoying the few events that I get.”

He’s likely to do so at Avenel, where he finished second twice as well as winning his title. Much of that success came in the course’s first few years, when it was routinely skewered by players.

That reputation — correct or not — has stuck and, combined with an often unfavorable date, helps limit the quality of fields. However, Kite was impressed with Avenel after playing it earlier this week.

“Right now it’s in the best conditions I’ve ever seen it,” Kite said. “It’s got a couple little goofy holes, but every golf course does. I really don’t understand what the gripe is with the golf course. Some of the early issues [like] the ninth green were rectified fairly early on. It’s a nice golf course now.”

Funk’s big 5-0

Fred Funk turned 50 last week, which made him eligible for Champions Tour events. And though the Takoma Park native plans to play the U.S. Senior Open and the Senior Players Championship next month, he joked yesterday that he was surprised to learn he was eligible for an AARP card so soon.

“I thought that was 55,” Funk said. “It’s 50, I heard, so I want my discount for the movies.”

Age isn’t preventing Funk, who is playing in the Booz Allen for the 19th straight year, from remaining feisty. He still hopes to make a run at a berth in this fall’s Ryder Cup (he ranks 22nd, with the top 10 assured spots on the American team), and a strong showing this week would help.

He also expressed frustration with an overemphasis on the event’s perceived lack of star quality. Padraig Harrington is the highest ranked player in the field at No. 23, and many of its biggest commitments have withdrawn in the last few weeks.

“I really get tired of hearing that,” said Funk, whose best finish in his hometown was a tie for second three years ago. “When we go to different venues across the country that aren’t blessed with the Phils, the Vijays and the Tigers, then it’s just who’s not in that tournament instead of who is here. It’s a great group of players here, whether it’s household names or not. ”

Happy to be back

Probably few players in the field look as fondly at Avenel as Rich Beem, who earned his first career victory on the course in 1999 and also finished second in 2002.

“It’s nice to come back to a golf course where I feel extremely comfortable,” Beem said. “I’ve hit a lot of good shots out here.”

It could be the perfect place for Beem to turn around his season. The 2002 PGA Championship winner has missed the cut in four of his last five events after combining for three top-20s in March and April.

“I started off well at the beginning of the year and probably tapered off a little bit,” Beem said. “I’m probably searching a little too much [and] too hard for something that’s not missing.”

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