ORLANDO (Fla.) — Kurt Kitayama allowed an All-Star field of competitors back into the tournament with three-bogeys, but he beat them all with a clutch birdie, and the best lag-putt of his life to win Sundays Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Kitayama won the lead with a birdie par putt on the par-3 17th hole, just 15 feet from the leader. Five players were tied for the lead. His 50-foot putt on hole 17 brought him within an inch of the cup.
The tap-in par for an even 72 might have been his easiest shot all day.
Rory McIlroy surged into the mix, making four birdies in a 5-hole stretch around the turn. But, he missed a 10-foot putt on the last hole to give him the lead. He finished one shot behind with a 70. Harris English was also bogey-free at Bay Hill, a crusty, windy course, for a 70.
Scottie Scheffler, the defending champion, was just a foot away of having a close view at birdie and a chance for the lead. Instead, his ball spun back in the rough on the 18th, and he finished with an eagle.
Jordan Spieth was one of six players who held at least a portion of the lead in the final two hours. From the 14th hole through the 17th, he missed four putts within 8ft — three of them were for par. He took the lead with a birdie putt of 15 feet, and then played his final five holes in three over.
Spieth (70), Scheffler 73), Patrick Cantlay 68 and Tyrrell Hatton (72) were all two shots behind.
They all had a chance – mostly because of one swing. Kitayama was leading by two shots when he made a wild hook on the ninth hole. This led to triple-bogey.
These are the players who beat Kitayama – Jon Rahm by one shot, Xander Schauffele in Mexico, McIlroy in South Carolina, McIlroy in the CJ Cup.
This time, the Californian 30-year-old who worked around the globe to earn a PGA Tour Card had the final say.
Kitayama was 9-under 279 and earned $3.6 Million.
Kitayama said, It went south at 9. All of the sudden, Im just not leading anymore. I just fought hard, and Im proud for that.
McIlroy made a bold play at the par-3 14th but didnt realize he was right. This was the beginning a bogey,bogey stretch that would keep him from his goal. He made the best approach on the 18th. He sailed right past the flag to 10 feet. The putt stayed to his right the entire way.
The final round was pure entertainment. Five players were tied for first place deep into the final round. All five had a chance to win.
McIlroy stated that he felt it on the course. It was difficult because the lead was changing hands, with guys making bogeys and not really making birdsies. I dont know how people find this entertainment value.
But its a great back nine. He said that it was great to have been involved with. Kurt is my hero. Hes been playing well for quite some time now, and Im happy to see him win his first victory.
All seven of the top players have won majors and played in the Ryder Cup. Kitayama is the exception. He was a polished player who trained himself for this moment.
Kitayama played at UNLV and didnt have much success on Korn Ferry Tour. Instead, he went overseas and did the Asian Tour and European Tour with stops in South Africa on the Sunshine Tour and Japan Golf Tour.
Hes now No. 19 in the world. He has a red cardigan sweater to win at Arnies and a big feather for the players he had beat.
On the 18th, he made it difficult for himself by dragging his tee shot through dense rough. His only thought was to just make it on the green, and just give myself an opportunity.
He had everything he needed to win the PGA Tour title.
Rahm was tied for 39th, his first time out of the top 10 since Augusts Tour Championship. He managed to remain at No. He remained at No.