CARLSBAD, CALIF., JAN. 5 -- 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 made up three strokes on leader Lanny Wadkins in eight holes and pulled away to a two-shot lead today after three rounds of the Tournament of Champions, first event of 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. . . . 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."

That's attributable to a shorter, more compact and more powerful swing and a return to the unorthodox cross-handed putting style.

"I'm staying with the cross-hand," Kite said. "I'm convinced it's the right thing for me. I won't be shifting back and forth like I did last year."

"It's kind of fun to have a round with no bogeys this early in the year," he said after a 4-under-par 68, his third consecutive effort in the 60s as he completed three rounds at 203, 13 under par on the chilly, foggy La Costa course.

Wadkins, like Kite age 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.

With the injury absence of Lee Trevino in the separate but simultaneous competition for senior players, Bruce Crampton held a four-stroke advantage. He shot 69 and was at 208 to Frank Beard's 68 -- 212.