The Washington Post

Kitayama fends off cast of stars to win at Bay Hill


Kurt Kitayama had only to look around at the players next to him in the practice area and right below him on the leader board at Bay Hill to know what he was up against Sunday in the Arnold Palmer Invitation­al in Orlando.

“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,” Kitayama said after a final two hours of pure theater produced his first PGA Tour win.

He got the result he desperatel­y wanted in a fashion he never imagined.

First came the wild tee shot that sailed out of bounds on the ninth hole that led to triple bogey and let an all-star cast — Rory Mcilroy, Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler, Tyrrell Hatton and Harris English — back into the tournament.

And then the 30-year-old California­n, who has played on 11 tours around the world to hone his game, delivered the winner.

Part of a five-way tie for the lead with three holes to play, he drilled a 6-iron to just inside 15 feet on the par-3 17th and holed it for a birdie to take the lead. From the gnarly rough left of the 18th fairway, he gouged an 8-iron onto the green to 50 feet. Needing two putts to win, the first one stopped an inch from the cup.

The tap-in for an even-par 72 was the easiest shot he faced all day, giving him a one-shot win over Mcilroy and English.

The soft-spoken Kitayama was due. Over the past year he finished one shot behind to Jon Rahm in Mexico, to Xander Schauffele in Scotland and to Mcilroy in South Carolina. This time, he beat them all. “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 at 9-under 279 and earned $3.6 million, moving to No. 19 in the world.

Mcilroy roared into the mix with four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn, took on a shot he didn’t need because he didn’t realize he was tied for the lead on the 14th and ultimately missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole and shot a 70.

English remarkably went bogey-free on brittle Bay Hill for the entire weekend. He missed an 18-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 70.

“I know Kurt more from European tour stuff,” Mcilroy said. “But he’s done really well. He’s persevered and played wherever he could get starts, and all of a sudden he’s won one of the biggest events on the PGA Tour. So good for him.” . . .

Columbian rookie Nico Echavarria seized control with two straight birdies on the back nine and closed with a 4-under 68 for a two-shot victory in the Puerto Rico Open in Rio Grande.

Echavarria was soaked on a sunny day at Grand Reserve, with friends and family dousing him with champagne after he tapped in for par. He tied the tournament record at 21-under 267.

“I’m happy with life right now,” said Echavarria, 28, who played at Arkansas. “After missing four cuts in a row, only making two cuts, you just doubt yourself. I’m very grateful I kept pushing and got it done.”

Akshay Bhatia, who plays on the Korn Ferry Tour, closed with a 65 to finish alone in second.

LPGA TOUR: In Singapore, l defending champion Jin Young Ko of South Korea closed with a 3-under 69 to win the Women’s World Championsh­ip by two shots.

Overnight leader Ko had a 72-hole total of 17-under 271 to finish two clear of American Nelly Korda.

Americans Allisen Corpuz (69) and Danielle Kang (68) finished at 14 under, tied with Japan’s Ayaka Furue (67) for third place.

PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS: l David Toms got up and down for his third bogey of the week on the par-4 18th hole at Tucson National to beat Robert Karlsson by one stroke in the Cologuard Classic.

Toms, 56, was surprised to learn that his tee shot on 18 rolled into the water. After a penalty drop, he hit his third shot right of the green, then left his chip about six feet short.

He pumped his fist as the bogey putt curled in to secure his third victory on the over-50 tour.

Toms closed with a 4-under 68 for a three-day total of 15-under 202 and won $330,000.

 ?? SAM GREENWOOD/GETTY IMAGES ?? American Kurt Kitayama competed in 11 tours around the world before getting his first PGA Tour victory Sunday in Orlando.
SAM GREENWOOD/GETTY IMAGES American Kurt Kitayama competed in 11 tours around the world before getting his first PGA Tour victory Sunday in Orlando.

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