Kurt Kitayama breaks through in wild finish at Bay Hill

Orlando, Florida –

Kurt Kitayama only needed to look around the player next to him in the practice area and the player directly below him on the Bay Hill leaderboard to see who his opponents will be at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday.

“You can’t ignore it. I think you have to know where you are, who’s there, and accept the whole situation,” Kitayama said after finishing the final for his first PGA Tour victory. Told after two hours of pure theatrics. .

He got the result he desperately wanted in a way he never imagined.

A wild tee shot came first, going out of bounds on the 9th hole, leading to a triple bogey and an all-star cast (Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Scotty Schaeffler, Tyrrell Hutton and Harris English) on the hole again i’m back. tournament.

And the 30-year-old Californian, who has taken 11 tours around the world to hone his game, has delivered a winner.

Part of a five-way tie to take the lead with three holes to go, he drilled the 6-iron just inside 15 feet on the par-3 17th and holed it up to birdie for the lead. . From the treacherous rough left of the 18th fairway, he gouged his 8-iron onto the green to his 50 feet. He needed two putts to win, and the first putt put him an inch away from the cup.

An even-par 72 tap-in was the easiest shot he faced all day, giving him a one-stroke victory over McIlroy and English.

It was scheduled for Kitayama, who spoke calmly. Last year he finished one stroke behind Mexico’s Jon Rahm, Scotland’s Xander Schauffele and South Carolina’s McIlroy.

This time he beat them all.

“I think I was just a little bit lucky,” Kitayama said. “You need it when you’re close to the top. Probably anyone could have won. Luckily, it happened to be me.”

He finished 9-under 279, earning $3.6 million and moving to 19th in the world rankings.

McIlroy roared into the mix with four birdies in the five-hole stretch around the turn, unaware that he had taken the lead at the 14th, took an unnecessary shot and eventually missed 10 feet. Did. Birdie putt on the final hole for 70 strokes.

English at Brittle Bay Hill went surprisingly bogey-free for the entire weekend. He missed his 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 70.

“I know Kurt very well from the European tour,” McIlroy said. “But he did really well. He was patient, he played wherever he could start and suddenly he won one of the biggest events on the PGA Tour. Good for him.”

Schaeffler was able to see birdie up close at the 18th and had a chance to take the lead. Instead, his ball spun back into the rough and Chip came out weak, finishing with a bogey of 73.

“I wish I could have played a little better, but in the end we put up a good fight,” Schaeffler said. “But Kurt played some great golf today. I think it’s pretty special to finish with a birdie 17 and a par 18 to win one.”

Spieth was one of six players to at least take the lead in the final two hours. He missed four straight putts within eight feet from the 14th to the 17th holes, three of which were pars. At the 13th hole he took the lead with a 15-foot birdie putt before playing his last five holes in his three overs.

“I wouldn’t have hit any putt differently. I hit my line on every putt. I barely misread all four,” Spieth said.

Spieth (70), Scheffler Patrick Cantlay (68) and Hatton (72) all finished two strokes behind.

For the most part, one swing gave everyone a chance. Kitayama led by two strokes when he hit a wild hookout of bounds on the ninth hole, leading to a triple bogey.

“We went south on the 9th,” said Kitayama. “Suddenly I’m not leading anymore. I fought back hard and I’m proud of that.”

Especially when there were five-way ties deep in the round, all of which could be won with one swing or one putt.

“I definitely felt it on the golf course, so I’m sure it was very good to watch,” McIlroy said. I wasn’t making a birdie.

“But it was a great back nine. It was great to be involved,” he said. “I’m really happy with Kurt. He’s been playing well for a while and I’m happy for him to get his first win.”

The top seven players have all won a Major or played in the Ryder Cup. The only exception was Kitayama, who groomed himself for moments like this in a close match with a pedigree.

Kitayama, who played for UNLV, had less success on the Korn Ferry Tour and traded abroad to Canada, South Africa, China, South Korea, Japan, the PGA Tour, as well as the Asian and European Tours. Australian and Asian Development Tour.

Now he has a red cardigan for winning in Ernie’s place and a big feather in his hat for the player he had to beat.

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