Arnold Palmer Invitational: Kurt Kitayama outlasts McIlroy, Scheffler to grab first career win
Kurt Kitayama didn’t make it easy for himself.
But Kitayama, thanks to a clutch bird in 17th and a wild trail in last, is now a PGA Tour winner.
Kitaema went through a crowded leaderboard to win the Under-9 Arnold Palmer Invitational, one stroke ahead of world No. 3 Rory McIlroy and two headers over Bay Hill runner-up Scotty Sheffler.
Kitaema opened the day with a three-shot lead but saw it disappear completely after he made a triple bogey on No. 9 after he knocked his drive out of bounds. It wasn’t until par-3 17 that Kitayama made a birdie again after diving nearly 14 feet, again giving him a solo lead.
“[I’m proud of] how hard I fought,” Kitaema told NBC. “I went south at nine and all of a sudden I’m not in the lead anymore. I just resisted stubbornly, I’m proud of myself for it.
However, Kitayama’s shot on the last hole landed off the fairway in a very strong rough. He did land 47 feet from the cup, and then somehow ended up just one throw away from what would have been a ridiculous birdie kick to close the week.
Tap-in steam worked fine.
Kitaema ended his day with a parity of 72, matching his result on Saturday.
“It’s always been my dream to win the Tour and finally do it, yes it’s amazing,” he said. “It’s pretty incredible, really.”
It looked like McIlroy was going to take it at one point, especially after a stretch where he sent four birdies into five holes on the turn and then hit another one on par-5 16. But McIlroy parried the rest of the way and narrowly missed a birdie strike on the 18th, which at the time shared the lead with four others. He finished the week in 8th with Harris English.
McIlroy’s victory would lift him to the top spot in the official world golf rankings for the 10th time in his career and would give him his first PGA Tour victory in 2023.
Jordan Spit also had a chance and even briefly led the solo after Kitayama’s trio. Spit, however, ended his day with three ghosts on the final five holes to get to 7-under in a week. Spit, Sheffler, Patrick Cantlay and Tyrrell Hutton finished in fourth place.
What happened to John Ram?
John Ram picked up where he left off on Thursday at Bay Hill.
This, however, was just as good as it was for the Spaniard this week.
After his first round of 65, Ram stumbled for the remainder of the weekend, which was odd for the best golfer in the world, who has absolutely dominated the sport in recent months.
Ram posted 76 in a row and then finished tied for 72 on Sunday to finish at T39. To date, this is his worst result of the season and he is the only one not to make it into the top 10.
Ram started the week by winning five times in his last nine international starts, most recently at the Genesis Invitational two weeks ago in Los Angeles. He jumped back to #1 in OWGR and no one could catch him.
Perhaps that’s why on Friday, after finishing his round with three bogeys and a double bogey on the final five holes, Ram didn’t hold back.
“How would I describe [my round]? What do you think I’m going to say? Excuse my language, but this is fucking hard. It’s durable, fast, and blows at 30 mph. It’s a very difficult golf course.”
Bay Hill is undoubtedly one of the toughest routes on the Tour, which is why very few scored well on Sunday. Davis Riley equaled the low round of the day from 6-to-66 and that took him 35 places on the leaderboard to T8.
Either way, Ram will have to wait until next week at TPC Sawgrass to try and recover for The Players Championship.