A day that began with world No. 1 Jon Rahm in command of the lead ends with Kurt Kitayama atop the leaderboard at the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational. With Rahm dropping from 7 under to 3 under in the span of a hour, the field was given new life after the hottest player in the world may have graciously opened the door for someone else to win a golf tournament.
Kitayama was the man up to the task in the early hours on Friday, signing for a second-round 68 to reach 9 under for the tournament. This number would hold steady for the remainder of the day despite the forecasted strong winds laying down late in the afternoon.
During this time, Jordan Spieth made a charge to 7 under to position himself directly behind Kitayama. While he is Kitayama’s closest competition, this is just one of the many big names within arm’s reach; joining them are U.S. Presidents Cup teammates Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Cameron Young and Scottie Scheffler on the first page of the leaderboard.
1. Kurt Kitayama (-9)
This time last year, Kitayama was ranked outside the top 250 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Securely inside the top 50 to begin the week, the 30-year-old continues to put himself in position for his first PGA Tour victory. Kitayama has shown flashes of brilliance but only to be outdone by one of the game’s elites. Collecting three runner-up finishes in his last 23 starts, Kitayama fell short to Rahm at the Mexico Open, Schauffele at the Scottish Open and Rory McIlroy at The CJ Cup in South Carolina. If he’s not careful, one of those names could upend him once again.
“I think I’ve put myself in good spots. Right now I feel like I’m just trying to get that win is, you know, it’s tough, especially with the guys I’ve been against,” said Kitayama. “So just got to keep putting myself in that position to give myself a chance … You get a couple good breaks and it’s your tournament, really. So I just got to try to be right up there until the end.”
2. Jordan Spieth (-7)
T3. Xander Schauffele, Corey Conners (-6)
T5. Patrick Cantlay, Davis Riley, Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Thomas (-5)
T9. Cameron Young, Ludvig Aberg (a), Scottie Scheffler, Adam Scott (-4)
The main sticking point of this group is the presence of those who are typically absent from the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Before this week, Schauffele, Spieth, Thomas and Cantlay had combined for three tournament appearances. With the designated status of this year’s event, the world’s best are proving their games will travel no matter the course.
Rahm is human after all
The world No. 1 rode a hot finish to a first-round lead but the turntables turned on Friday. Lowlighted by a double-bogey on the par-5 6th, Rahm played his final five holes in 4 over and went from leading this tournament to needing to play catch up over the weekend. With his round of 4-over 76 — his worst score since the 2022 PGA Championship — he stands at 3 under and six strokes behind Kitayama.
“Excuse my language, but it’s f—– hard,” Rahm said with a laugh. “It’s firm, it’s fast and it’s blowing 30 miles an hour. It’s a very difficult golf course. For most of the day I managed it. It’s just the last five holes, even though I didn’t feel like I was making bad swings, I just couldn’t quite get it going and finished poorly the last stretch.”
Big day for a different No. 1
The world No. 1 in the professional ranks may not be inside the top 10, but the No. 2 amateur in the world is. Ludvig Aberg of Texas Tech fired back-to-back rounds of 70 to climb into a share of 10th place at the halfway point. Aberg currently checks in at No. 1 in the PGA Tour U Standings, which is of considerable importance since the top player after the completion of the NCAA Championship will earn status on the PGA Tour.
“I think we’ve been talking about it and I think that the more of these events you play, the easier it’s going to get,” said Aberg. “It gives me a lot of knowledge about myself. Because obviously it exposes your game a lot more than a regular event does. We’re playing greens that are rolling very fast. Then you got wind and you got a tough golf course. So it teaches you more about your game. I just try to enjoy it, try to embrace it and take in as much as I can.”
2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational updated odds and picks
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
- Xander Schauffele (6-1)
- Jordan Spieth (13/2)
- Kurt Kitayama (17/2)
- Scottie Scheffler (9-1)
- Patrick Cantlay (9-1)
- Justin Thomas (11-1)
- Jon Rahm (11-1)
- Corey Conners (14-1)
- Matt Fitzpatrick (14-1)
- Rory McIlroy (22-1)
- Cameron Young (25-1)
- Max Homa (28-1)
Last year, Scheffler entered the weekend eight strokes off the pace and continued the history of Bay Hill catering to chasers. The top of this year’s leaderboard is considerably stronger with the likes of Spieth, Thomas, Schauffele and more, but there may still be a crack through which to enter. It should be wide enough for a pair of interesting outsiders: Cameron Young at 25-1 and Max Homa at 28-1.
Young was 8 under through 14 holes on Friday before finishing with two bogeys and a double. He’s driving the ball terrifically and giving himself looks. Homa is in the same boat, albeit one stroke further back at 3 under. Homa ranks inside the top 10 in both strokes-gained off the tee and strokes-gained approach, and he should make his way up the leaderboard if his short-game woes subside.