American Kurt Kitayama held off a crowded and high quality leaderboard at the Arnold Palmer Invitational to secure his first career PGA Tour victory.
The 30-year-old Californian, whose previous wins came on the DP World Tour in 2018 and 2019, fired rounds of 67, 68, 72 and 72 to finish on 9 under par at Bay Hill, where gusting winds and fast greens made scoring a challenge.
Holding a narrow lead going into the final round, a triple-bogey seven at the ninth hole looked to have derailed his chances of victory, but a vital birdie at the par-3 17th saw him regain the outright lead from Rory McIlroy and Harris English, and a brave two-putt par from 48 feet on the final green saw him secure a coveted PGA TOUR win on what was his first appearance at the tournament.
McIlroy, playing ahead of Kitayama, had a 10-foot birdie putt at the last to take a share of the lead at -9, but it missed the hole and his two-under-par 70 saw him have to share second place with English. Tyrrell Hatton, who fired a third round 66 to move into contention, shared fourth place with Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler. The latter needed to finish second outright in order to regain the world no.1 spot from Jon Rahm, while McIlroy needed to win.
Rahm experienced his first finish outside of the top-10 since last August, with a tied 39th finish on 1-over-par.
Kitayama said: “Ecstatic. I’ve been dreaming of this for a while. I’ve been close and to finally get it done feels amazing. For the most part, I was feeling in control. My heart was pumping, but being in those situations in the past definitely helped. I found myself walking super-fast and then I was like, ‘Slow down, just take a minute’, and that really helped.”
Kitayama’s win also secured him a place at the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, while Harris English and Davis Riley took the two other Open spots that were on offer at Bay Hill for players who weren’t otherwise qualified.
A TaylorMade staff player, Kitayama had a full bag of the brand’s equipment in play, including the Stealth 2 Plus driver and fairway woods, P·7MC and P-7MB irons, Milled Grind 3 wedges, a Spider X putter and TP5x golf ball.