Texan Tom Kite talks softly and carries four big sticks: three wedges and a putter.

Off Congressional's tees yesterday, Kite constantly was being outdriven by the two other members of his group, Andy Bean and Gil Morgan. But the galleries grew noisy when Kite exhibited his magical short game around the greens during his scrambling 68.

His long explosion bunker shot at No. 17--his eighth hole after starting his round on No. 10--enabled him to remain in the lead at three under par. It was the sort of shot most amateurs bungle 14 ways.

Sand shots make weekend golfers apprehensive, but Kite said the shot "wasn't nearly as difficult as it looked." Nevertheless, it had the crowd oohing and aahing.

Kite had just birdied 16, but his middle-iron approach shot to the 17th hole was caught by the wind and the ball went left of the green and plummeted into a bunker.

He was left with a sand blast of about 70 feet, and the green sloped away from him. He opened the blade of his sand wedge, took a fluid swing and splashed the ball out of the bunker. It landed about 20 feet short of the hole and slid down five feet below the cup. He made the putt for par.

"A lot of amateurs have no confidence in the sand," Kite said. "Just open up your stance and make sure the club face is aimed at the target. You should make sure that your stance is open. That dictates that you hit a couple of inches behind the ball.

"I just hit it left and it kicked down by the hole," said Kite, who carries a sand wedge, a regular wedge, a more lofted "finesse" wedge for shorter shots and an aptly trademarked "Bullseye" putter.

Ed Fiori, who said that of late he has been struggling in the bunkers, stressed another point regarding sand play.

"You have to have a long extension on the follow through. Otherwise you may leave the ball in the trap," he said. "I open the blade more on short shots and close it more on long shots. The more you open the blade, the harder you can swing at it. The ball will pop up more. Just open the club face and let 'er go. That and about 10,000 practice shots will really help your sand game."