ORLANDO, Florida – Kurt Kitayama simply needed to turn around to see the competitors in the Arnold Palmer Invitational practise area next to him and directly under him on the scoreboard at Bay Hill.
“You must take action. During a final two hours of pure drama for his maiden PGA Tour victory, Kitayama remarked, “I think you just have to accept the entire circumstance and realise where you’re at.
He never anticipated how he would get the outcome he so deeply desired.
First, an All-Star cast, including Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler, Tyrrell Hatton, and Harris English, got back into the competition after a crazy tee shot on the ninth hole that went out of bounds.
The winning shot was subsequently delivered by the 30-year-old Californian, who has participated in 11 international tours to improve his skills.
He hit a 6-iron to just within 15 feet on the par-3 17th and nailed it for a birdie to grab the lead with three holes remaining. He gouged an 8-iron onto the green to 50 feet from the thick rough to the left of the 18th fairway. The first putt came to a halt just an inch from the cup, leaving two to win.
The easiest shot he faced all day was the tap-in for an even-par 72, which gave him a one-shot victory over McIlroy and English.
It was time for the soft-spoken Kitayama. He finished one stroke behind of McIlroy in South Carolina, Xander Schauffele in Scotland, and Jon Rahm in Mexico during the last year.
He defeated everyone this time.
Kitayama stated, “I suppose just a little bit of luck finally went my way. “That’s what you need when it’s that close at the top. It was probably open to anybody to win. Fortunately, I just so happened to be there.
He won $3.6 million, finishing at 9-under 279, and climbed to No. 19 on the global rankings.
After four birdies in a span of five holes around the turn, McIlroy surged into contention. He then took a shot he didn’t need on the 14th hole because he didn’t know he was tied for the lead, missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole, and finished with a score of 70.
On fragile Bay Hill, English amazingly avoided making bogey the whole weekend. On the last hole, he missed an 18-foot birdie putt for a 70.
McIlroy said, “I know Kurt more from things from the European tour. “But, he did pretty well. He persisted and competed anywhere he could find opportunities, and suddenly he had won one of the major PGA Tour competitions. Very well done for him.
On the 18th hole, Scheffler was about a foot away from a good look at a birdie and a chance to seize the lead. Rather, his shot ended up spinning back into the rough, his chip was feeble, and he concluded with a bogey for a score of 73.
Scheffler remarked, “I wish I played a little bit better, but in the end, I put up a nice fight. Kurt, though, had a great round of golf today. To finish on a par 18 and birdie 17 to win by one, in my opinion, is quite exceptional.
Six men, including Spieth, had at least a share of the lead during the last two hours. From the 14th through the 17th holes, he missed four consecutive putts inside of eight feet, three of them for par. He played his last five holes in 3 over after seizing the lead with a 15-foot birdie putt on the thirteenth hole.
Spieth stated, “I wouldn’t have hit any of the putts differently. “I delivered my line on each and every one of them. All four of them were just slightly off.
Hatton (72) placed second, followed by Spieth (70), Scheffler Patrick Cantlay (68), and Hatton (72).
To a large extent because of one swing, they all had a chance. After Kitayama hit a wild hook out of bounds on the ninth hole, he lost his two-shot lead and made triple-bogey.
On 9, it “went south,” Kitayama said. “I find that I’m no longer in charge. I just fought back fiercely, and I’m proud of it.
Everyone was left wondering how it would all turn out, particularly when five players tied for the lead late in the round and were each only one swing or putt away from victory.
McIlroy added, “I definitely felt it on the golf course, so I’m sure that was fairly entertaining to watch. It’s challenging because players were making bogeys rather than true birdies as the lead changed hands. I’m not sure how people can find it entertaining. But the back nine was fantastic. That was wonderful to be a part of.
All seven of the best players have either participated in the Ryder Cup or won major championships. The exception is Kitayama, who via his several narrow escapes from players with established pedigrees prepared himself for a situation like this.
Kitayama, a former UNLV player who struggled on the Korn Ferry Tour, took his talents abroad instead, making trips on the Asian Tour, the European Tour, the PGA Tour of Australasia, the Asian Development Tour, Canada, South Africa, China, Korea, and Japan.
Now that he has won at Arnie’s house, he gets a red cardigan and a significant accomplishment for the competitors he had to defeat.