Kurt Kitayama won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his first victory on the North American PGA Tour, on Sunday in Orlando thanks to a birdie at the last hole after fending off pressure from Rory McIlroy and others (Floride). Before separating herself completely from the No. 17 competitor, the 30-year-old American who had been leading the standings since Friday was tied with no fewer than five rivals, including three previous winners of the competition, who had not been able to negotiate the last right as well. In response to a Kitayama length that totaled -9, the Americans Harris English and the third-placed North Irishman Rory McIlroy were forced to tie for second place.
Scottie Scheffler, who finished second in the world last year but was unsuccessful, Jordan Spieth, and Tyrrell Hatton, who died in 2020, all made mistakes on the final two holes to share fourth place with Patrick Cantlay, who made a futile climb up eight spots on this most recent tour.
In the middle of the race, Kitayama, the 46th-ranked athlete in the world, committed a triple boguey by removing the ball from the course’s boundaries. Yet even if he had held the lead for the next seven holes, the competition would have taken advantage of his major error to catch up to him and, in the case of McIlroy, even surpass him between the 12th and 13th holes.
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Yet the Californian, whose best USPGA results had been second-place finishes, most recently at the Coupe CJ last year, found the resources to make up for his regularity throughout this Florida weekend.
“It failed to take off in vrille on No. 9, but I battled hard to stay in the game, and that makes me happy,” he said without masking his happiness at the outcome. It was really difficult, and that was everything for which I had mentally prepared myself. I’ve always wanted to triumph in the race. Finally getting there is quite incredible.
Rory McIlroy, who had a chance to overtake Spanish golfer Jon Rahm for the global lead, finished the tournament in 39th place but fell short. A missed putt on hole number 18 prevented him from making a birdie that would have put him in the playoffs.
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