ORLANDO, FL — Kurt Kitayama, a true underdog in every sense of the word, overcame a triple bogey 7, two three-putts and roll call of superstars on the leaderboard to emerge victorious on Sunday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The triple bogey came as a result from his pulled tee shot left at the par 4 ninth. The ball came to rest out-of-bounds by mere inches, and that allowed the cast of all-stars chasing him – back into the tournament.
The first two events on the “Florida Swing” haven’t been short on drama, and Arnie’s event was keeping up its end of the bargain with a bunched leaderboard that saw a five-way tie for the lead with just three holes to play. Kitayama looked prime to take the lead, but three putted the sixteenth for a disappointing par, but his 6-iron to 14 feet on the 217 yard par-3 seventeenth was clutch. He holed the putt for birdie to grab the lead. His tee shot on the last was pulled into the rough left of the 18th fairway, but he managed to extricate an 8-iron perfectly onto the green to 47 feet. Needing just two putts for his first PGA Tour victory, his first putt stopped just before the front lip of the cup. He tapped in to seal his PGA Tour title.
Afterwards, discussing what the challenge is like to face the game’s best field, “You can’t ignore it. You got to know where you’re at and you know who is there and just embrace the whole situation, I guess. I think just a little bit of luck finally went my way,” Kitayama said. “When it’s that close at the top, that’s what you need. Anyone probably could have won it. Luckily, it just happened to be me.”
He finished Sunday with an even par 72 at 9-under 279 and earned $3.6 million, moving to No. 19 in the world. Rory McIlroy (70) and Harris English (70) finished tied for second a stroke back at 8 under par.