Kurt Kitayama handles a windy Bay Hill as Jon Rahm falters

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Kurt Kitaema is chasing his first PGA Tour win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a group of world-class contenders right behind him.

Kitayama should get used to it.

Just last year he beat John Rahm in Mexico, Xander Schaufele in Scotland and Rory McIlroy in South Carolina.

Kitaema handled the wind, which only made Bay Hill tougher, going 4-68 and two shots ahead of Jordan Spit, the three-time world champion and former world No. 1 player.

“Now I feel like I’m just trying to win,” Kitaema said. “It’s tough, especially with the guys I was up against. So I just have to keep putting myself in that position to give myself a chance.”

Ram finally became a man. His last five holes included a double scarecrow, three scarecrows and a birdie. He made 76 shots, his highest since 76 shots in the third round of the PGA Championship last May, and was six shots behind.

“How would I characterize it? What do you think I’m going to say? Excuse my language, but this (expletive) is difficult,” Ram said.

He smiled as he spoke, happy with what he had done and resigned himself to the fact that a hard day at the office would not be his alone under the circumstances.

“It’s solid. It’s fast. And it’s blowing at 30 miles an hour,” he said. “This is a very challenging golf course.”

Kitaema was at 9 under 135 and the closest contender is Spit, who tied for fourth place in his only Bay Hill performance.

Spit hit a par 5 on the back nine of two to set up a birdie, hit a long par on the 15th, hit a long par off the rim on the 17th, and then got a huge break with what he described as the worst shot he’s ever made. ever hit with a carbine that seemed certain to go out of bounds.

Instead, he settled at the base of the chain link fence. Spit’s only game was to flip the wedge of sand and play it with his left hand. This would put his feet on the cart track, and from there he would be free to fall.

“It was very successful,” Spit said. “The whole hole I was supposed to hit a 6 or 7, and I secretly almost hit a 4.”

He missed a par hit and had to settle for 69 and a place in the final group on Saturday.

Cameron Young seemed to be there until the last four holes. He was one shot behind to a pair of scarecrows, and then on the 18th shot a thick ruff into the water for a double scarecrow and 73. He was five behind.

Schaufele only hit one shot—his approach to the 11th failed and hit the water, and he hit an 18-footer to avoid the ghost—and played the last 16 holes without a ghost. He threw 70 and was three behind along with Corey Conners, who had the low round of the day with a score of 66.

“Felt like 62,” Conners said.

Justin Thomas managed to hit eight birdies, only for a ghostly finish of 67. He was in a 5 to 139 group that included Patrick Cantley (71) and US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who hit his last three holes at 69. .

Kitayama plodded forward even as the wind began to pick up. He was ghost-free until the 16th par-5 when he lost position from the tee and had to play out of water with his third hit, resulting in a bogey.

But he responded with a 100-foot bunker shot to get into range on a par-3 on the 17th, and with the wind in his back hit a gap from 10 feet for a birdie.

Kitaema doesn’t need a PGA Tour tournament to compete well. He plays regularly in Las Vegas with Schauffel and two-time world champion Collin Morikawa.

“Yes Kurt, we call him Quadzilla or Quadsila.” He has really big feet,” Schauffele said. “He is a good guy. He is a really good player. He holds on tight and has a good head on his shoulders. So not surprised to see it there.

There’s a lot of strength in those 5’7″ Kitayama legs. After throwing on the 11th, he hit for 361 yards on the 12th pair of 5s, leaving only an iron 8 on the green that set up another birdie.

McIlroy, meanwhile, hit under par for the first time in the tournament on his 26th hole, hitting a 15-foot birdie on the 17th par-3 hole. He hit a par 5 on the front nine and finished with 69, still seven behind Kitayama but not overly concerned about it.

“Kurt is a great player, but you look at some people who are 6 (under) behind him, like Xander,” McIlroy said. “It’s not a lead… but I feel like if I can catch up with Xander, I’ll be very close to winning the golf tournament.”

The two players had to return on Saturday morning to finish the second round. One of them was Greg Koch, in the hard par-4 rough ninth. If he had made a birdie, the cut would have been 1 in 145 and he would have eliminated seven players. The ghost will mean that Koch is not in the frame.


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