PEBBLE BEACH, Calif., Feb. 6— Tom Kite floundered today on the home stretch with three consecutive bogeys, but he came through to win the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am by two strokes. As late as the 14th hole, Kite had held a five-shot lead.
”I hated to finish the way I did,” Kite said after his one-over par 73 for a four-round total of 276. ”I guess I was getting complacent with a five-shot lead. I got a little carried away. I guess I was a little anxious to get my name on the crystal trophy. But I’d like to think I’m a good enough player to hang on to a fiveshot lead.”
In a way, Kite has Rex Caldwell and Bob Gilder to thank. Caldwell, who now has been runner-up in his last three starts, missed two short putts on the 17th and 18th holes that could have forced a tie. Gilder, winner of the Phoenix Open a week ago, was only one shot behind Kite until he came to the par-5 18th, where he sliced his drive out-of-bounds for a double bogey.
As so often happens here in the winter, the weather was miserable, with cold rain falling intermittently. Good Location for Ocean
Under these conditions, contestants were permitted to play preferred lies. This means a player can lift and clean the ball and, delicately with his fingers, replace it on the turf within a club length of the original lie. As each group left a green, workmen scraped water off the green with rubber blades mounted on the ends of poles.
It was a struggle to stay dry and warm. Kite wears eyeglasses, and he had to wipe them dozens of times. When was Kite sure he had won? ”On the 18th tee,” he answered. ”All my bad shots today went right, and here the Pacific Ocean was on the left side.” He played the 18th in regulation, three shots and two putts for par.
Kite, who scored a record 62 Saturday on the Pebble Beach Golf Links, was 12 under par for the combined courses on which the tournament rotated – two rounds on Pebble Beach and one each on Cypress Point and Spyglass Hill. Nicklaus Passes $4 Million
While Gilder, Kite’s primary pursuer, lost his chance on the 72d hole, Caldwell and Calvin Peete, the most accurate player on the tour, held on to tie for second place at 278. Caldwell shot 73 and Peete 70. Peete’s biggest shot was from the fairway on the par-5 15th. He holed out a wedge for an eagle.
Gilder’s 72 dropped him to nine under par, where he was tied for fourth with Danny Edwards, who scored 71. Jack Nicklaus, a three-time winner of this tournament, scored 72-280 for sixth place. His share of the purse, $11,700, sent his career earnings to $4,006,633, making him the first golfer to surpass $4 million.
Tom Watson, the winner here in 1977 and 1978, shot the only score of the day below 70. His 69-281 placed him in a tie with Ken Green, who shot 76. Green had excellent rounds the first two days with 66 on Spyglass and 68 on Pebble. His Goals Are Private
This was the most prestigious of Kite’s five victories on the PGA Tour. The odd thing about Kite’s career is that he has won a lot of money – $1.7 million without winning many tournaments. He won one event in each of the years 1976, 1978, 1981 and 1982. The key to his success has been consistency, with repeated placements in the top five or top 10. Kite was the leading money-winner in 1981 with $375,700. Last season he was third on with $341,081.
Kite said he had set certain goals for himself this season, but he said they were ”fairly private.” ”What I can say is that today is a stepping stone, but not close to the goals,” he said. ”It’s a nice start, but I have a long way to go.”
Kite’s purse of $58,500 raised his season’s winnngs to $62,888. His only previous starts this year have been the Bob Hope Desert Classic, where he tied for 19th, and the Phoenix Open, where he missed the cut. Staying in the Hunt
For a fleeting moment today, Caldwell tied Kite for the lead. He started the day at 11 under and Kite started at minus 13. Kite bogeyed No.1 and birdied No.2 to stay at 13 under. Caldwell birdied both those holes to reach 13 under, but he double-bogeyed the third and bogeyed the 7th and 8th. He recovered one of those shots with a 12-foot birdie putt at the 14th.
Coming in, Caldwell barely missed a 9-foot birdie putt at the 17th and a 4-footer for birdie at 18. Had he made those putts, he would have forced a playoff.
Caldwell, who has not won once in his eight years on tour, earned $28,600 for a total of $95,233 in the three events in which he has run second – the Hope, Phoenix and here.
”I know I can win now,” he said. ”Every day for three weeks I’ve been in the hunt. I’ve never felt any pressure in those three weeks.”
How did Caldwell like his image as the sport’s favorite underdog? ”A lot of people have been pulling for me,” he replied. ”That gets me pumped up. I feel great about it.” Hooks Like a Duffer
Kite’s round consisted of six bogeys against five birdies. He played the front nine in one under par on four birdies and three bogeys. When Kite birdied No.12 on a 20-foot putt, he went to 15 under par, five shots ahead of Gilder, Caldwell and Peete.
After two more pars, he ran into trouble. On the 15th he hooked so severely that his only shot was a chip to the fairway. He hit a terrible approach to the 16th, 60 feet short of the pin, and he three-putted. On the par-3 17th he drove into a poor lie in a bunker, blasted out to the opposite edge of the green, 20 feet from the stick, and took two putts.
Then he was 12 under, at a time when Gilder was minus 11. When Gilder sliced out of bounds and Caldwell missed on 17, that was it.