Kurt Kitayama Claims Enthralling Arnold Palmer Invitational Victory
The American overcame a triple bogey mid-round to secure his first PGA Tour title in a thrilling final day
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It's difficult to think where to start with this Arnold Palmer Invitational, with there being 10 players all within a shot of the lead regularly throughout the final day. Certainly we were treated to a leaderboard littered with class, as several of the World's Top 15 were in contention at Bay Hill but, at the end of the day, it was World No. 46, Kurt Kitayama, who held on to win his first PGA Tour title.
Beginning on Sunday, it was Kitayama who held a slim one shot advantage, with the likes of Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Tyrrell Hatton all in contention.
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Out of the gate, it was Spieth who made the biggest move as four birdies in his opening five holes vaulted him into a share of the lead. Kitayama, though, fought back and, with back-to-back birdies at the seventh and eighth, he found himself two clear of his fellow countryman.
As he created some breathing room, the 30-year-old looked to pull away from the pack. However, his tee shot on the ninth was pulled left and, subsequently, finished out of bounds by mere inches! That led to a triple bogey, and a two shot advantage was now a one shot deficit.
Playing the back nine, it seemed no-one wanted to win the tournament and the $3.6 million first prize, with many falling over themselves as the final holes came into view. At one point, despite starting his round bogey-bogey, McIlroy led the field at nine-under-par, but further bogeys at the 14th and 15th meant he would miss out by one.
He wasn't the only one as, along with McIlroy, Harris English fell one short when his birdie putt at the last missed, with the likes of Patrick Cantlay, Spieth, Scheffler and Hatton also rueing mistakes late on in their rounds.
Kitayama, who was making his 50th PGA Tour start and has played on 12 different World Tours before his victory today, missed a superb opportunity to pull ahead at the par 5 16th, with a three-putt making it look like we were heading for a mammoth playoff.
The American has shown sheer grit, though, throughout this week and, at the par 3 17th, he produced a 214-yard iron which finished 20-feet from the flag. Under immense pressure, he duly rolled in the birdie putt to move one ahead with just one hole remaining.
Although he found the rough off the tee at the last, his stunning approach found the green. Two putts would give him the title and, as it rolled towards the hole, it seemed one was going to be enough. Somehow though, the lengthy birdie putt finished on the edge of the cup but, after marking it and tapping-in, the Arnold Palmer Invitational title was his!
Matt joined Golf Monthly in February 2021 covering weekend news, before also transitioning to equipment and testing. After freelancing for Golf Monthly and The PGA for 18 months, he was offered a full-time position at the company in October 2022 and continues to cover weekend news and social media, as well as help look after Golf Monthly’s many buyers’ guides and equipment reviews.
Taking up the game when he was just seven years of age, Matt made it into his county squad just a year later and continues to play the game at a high standard, with a handicap of around 2-4. To date, his best round came in 2016, where he shot a six-under-par 66 having been seven-under through nine holes. He currently plays at Witney Lakes in Oxfordshire and his favourite player is Rory McIlroy, despite nearly being struck by his second shot at the 17th during the 2015 BMW PGA Championship.
Matt’s current What’s In The Bag?
Driver: Honma TW747, 8.75°
Fairway Wood: TaylorMade Rocketballz Stage 2, 15°, 19°
Hybrid: Adams Super Hybrid, 22°
Irons: Mizuno MP54, 5-PW
Wedges: Cleveland 588 RTX 2.0 Tour Satin, 50°, 56°, 60°
Putter: Cleveland TFI 2135 Satin Cero
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
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