Kurt Kitayama clings to Bay Hill lead; Scheffler, Hovland loom

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Kurt KitayamaTo find his way in golf, he had to leave his home and play circuits in Europe, Australia, and Asia in order to reach the highest level. He also won three international titles and learned how to fight.

It might be useful Sunday at Bay Hill.

Kitayama, who was without a birdie in the front nine and was no longer leading at the Arnold Palmer Invitational took the lead with a 25-foot birdie starting the back nine. Two birdies were made over the final three holes on Saturday to give Kitayama an even-par 72.

He won the title by one shot with a 15-foot birdie putt on his final hole. Scottie SchefflerAnd Viktor HovlandNorway

Kitayama stated, Just proud of how I fought. Theres no letting up. Its just part and parcel of my nature. Even when things are going terribly, you cant just throw it in the trash. Every shot is worth fighting for.

Kitayama, a Californian 30-year-old, is now aiming for his first PGA Tour title.

Scheffler recorded five birdies on his final seven holes in warm gusts making Bay Hill even more difficult. He finished with a 68, and was one behind. Hovland made a bunker shot to secure one of his six birdies during a bogey-free round 66.

Hovland was second to Scheffler at Bay Hill a year ago.

The rest are the expected result of a $20 million event, and every PGA Tour member who is in the top 50 worldwide.

Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin ThomasAnd Max HomaAll were within Kitayamas reach if he lost ground or Bay Hill was as brittle and baked as it usually is for the final round.

Kitayama held his ground for now, even though it seemed as though he could crater.

His two-shot lead was wiped out when a loose swing sent his drive off the right side and out of bounds on the par-5 4th hole. This led to double bogey. He finished in 39. Hovland was at the top of the leaderboard and McIlroy took his place with a remarkable bogey-free round, which was 68.

McIlroy said, I believe that if you can go bogey free on the weekend at Bay Hill, youre doing something right. I got myself into the tournament, into all the action for tomorrow.

Kitayama bounced back, with four birdies on his back nine. That putt brought him to 9-under 207. Tyrrell HattonMcIlroy was two ahead at 66. Harris English(69) was another shot back.

Kitayama stated, Started off solidly the first three holes, then one loose swing and I am 2 over. Then, I got some uncomfortable shots coming into that front nine. Its really hard. That birdie, that putt at 10, helped to calm down.

Bay Hill was full of evidence of trouble, as usual.

Corey ConnersCanada was one of four players to have at least a share in the lead at one point on Saturday. Canada only shot 40 on Sunday for a 75.

Spieth made bogey bogey in the final group with Kitayama. He was still within two shots of the lead, but he played the final 12 holes without any birdies or bogeys for a 74. Thomas was unbogey until he missed a par putt of 4 feet on the last hole to earn a 72.

Homa was 4 down through his first four holes. However, he dropped four shots to get to a birdie on 16th for an even 71. He was five behind. Cameron Young (72).

Nevertheless, the final round could still be wide open.

Kitayama was three shots behind last year, finishing one shot behind Jon RahmMexico Open Xander SchauffeleMcIlroy in the CJ Cup in South Carolina, at the Scottish Open. Scheffler will be a tough opponent for McIlroy, who is ranked among the top players in the world. Scheffler has already successfully defended one title at this years WM Phoenix Open.

Scheffler was able to take care of the back nines par 5, hit a lob wedge on the 13th for birdie, then saved his best for par-3 17. His only hope was to hit a shot that would stay on the brick-hard green, even with the wind at his back. He hammered the 9-iron and watched as it narrowly cleared his bunker to finish 4 feet away.

The Masters champion is now within reach of another title that could be enough for him to return to No. The worlds No. 1. Scheffler is expecting the toughest test of the week.

Should also be another fun one, he stated, referring to the course as well as the potential contenders. Thats whats exciting with our new schedule. I believe well have a lot more. Viktor is sure to beat me this year, and I am looking to do it the same. There are many talented guys on this leaderboard. I wont be too concerned about anyone but myself going into tomorrow.

Rahm could lose the top ranking. Rahm opened with a 65, followed by two straight 76s. In the third round, he made five straight bogeys at the turn.

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