Kitayama fends off star-studded chasing pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Sports Desk March 05, 2023

Kurt Kitayama made sure his 50th start on the PGA Tour would be one he never forgets after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one stroke on Sunday with a final score of nine under.

Kitayama, 30, is in his seventh season after making his debut in the 2016-17 campaign, and he finally earned his first PGA Tour victory to go with two wins on the European Tour and one Asian Tour triumph.

It was far from smooth sailing, with a catastrophic triple-bogey on the ninth hole ruining Kitayama's bright start to his final trip around Bay Hill, taking him from a two-stroke lead at 11 under, back to one behind the leaders.

But he kept his composure, rattling off seven pars in a row to begin his back nine, before what ended up being the tournament-winning birdie on the tricky par-three 17th.

Rory McIlroy and Harris English both had birdie putts on the 18th to reach nine under, but could not convert, meaning Kitayama just needed a par on the last to secure the win.

He left himself with a long two-putt for the title, and he almost made it in one, coming up an inch short to set up a tap-in par.

Illustrating how difficult the course played over the weekend, Kitayama was nine under through two rounds, and finished with back-to-back 72s as the field failed to chase him down.

McIlroy briefly tasted the outright lead after Kitayama's triple and Jordan Spieth's late collapse, but the Northern Irishman's seven birdies were balanced out by five bogeys, including two in a row on the 14th and 15th while he was out in front.

He finished tied for second at eight under with English, who was the only player in the field to finish with no bogeys on Saturday or Sunday.

Spieth found himself at 10 under through 13, but imploded with three bogeys over his next four to tie for fourth at seven under with Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler and Tyrell Hatton.

After a five-over outing on Saturday, Davis Riley bounced back with a 66 for the round of the day, catapulting him into an unlikely top-10 finish at six under.

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