Over the past year, Kurt Kitayama finished runner-up to the likes of Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, and Rory McIlroy. Here’s the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational Recap.
This weekend at Bay Hill in Orlando, Kitayama held off the world’s best golfers to claim victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It’s the 30-year-old’s first win on the PGA Tour.
The Californian entered the final day with the lead but disaster struck on the par-4 ninth, where he logged a triple bogey. He was able to recover and par each of the first seven holes on the back nine, and a birdie on the par-3 17th proved to be the winning margin.
“It went south on 9,” Kitayama said. “All of a sudden, I’m not leading anymore. I just fought back hard, and I’m proud of myself for that.”
On 18, Kitayama hit his tee shot into the rough, but a splendid shot out of the tall grass left him around 43 feet away from the cup and two shots to get there. He very nearly almost only needed one shot.
Kitayama’s clutch putt ended up resting on the edge of the cup. The tap-in for par gave him a one-stroke victory over Rory McIlroy and Harris English.
“After the birdie putt, there was] just like a big sigh of relief, really, you know, that this was really happening,” said Kitayama. “Going into the day, you know who is near the top, and you just pay attention the whole day. You can’t ignore it.”
His winning score was a 9-under 279 after finishing with back-to-back 72s on a Bay Hill course that was already difficult and was magnified by windy conditions despite temperatures pushing 90 degrees.
After a couple of disappointing (for him) performances at the WM Phoenix Open and Genesis Invitational, McIlroy was in contention down the stretch and actually had the lead for a brief moment.
The problem for McIlroy is he didn’t realize he was leading and chose to be aggressive on the par-3 14th. His tee shot ended up in a bunker and he bogeyed the hole.
“If I look back on today the one thing I’ll rue is the tee shot on 14,” McIlroy said after his round. “I birdied 13 and got on to 14 tee and I honestly thought I was still like one or two behind the lead. As I was walking to the 14th green, I looked behind me at the scoreboard, and I was leading by one. And if I had known that, I wouldn’t have tried to play the shot that I played on 14, which was unfortunate.”
Defending champion Scottie Scheffler ended up tied for fourth at -7 with Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, and Tyrrell Hatton. Scheffler had a chance to get into a playoff with Kitayama after his second shot on 18 landed about 10 feet from the pin, but a wicked backspin left him with a difficult shot that led to a bogey instead of a birdie.
Jon Rahm, who led after the first round, finished 39th after going +8 in his final three rounds after a -7 start on Thursday. Despite his first finish outside the top-10 in any tournament since the Tour Championship, Rahm maintains his lead over McIlroy and Scheffler for the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Many of these same players will be traveling northeast from Orlando to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. Defending champion Cameron Smith will not be taking part since the LIV Golf pro is ineligible, but 43 of the world’s top-50 golfers are participating.
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