After a clutch final two holes, Kurt Kitayama is now a winner on the PGA Tour after taking home the Arnold Palmer Invitational at 9-under.
Kitayama had a three-shot lead into the final round on Sunday, but as we’ve seen too many times in the past, it’s never an easy road to victory in golf.
That was almost the case on Hole 9 as Kitayama saw his drive at the tee box go into the water, leading to a triple-bogey that wiped out his lead.
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However, the Chico, California, native dug deep and continued to keep pace until the 17th hole when he took advantage of a birdie opportunity.
From about 14 feet out at the par-3 hole, Kitayama sunk the putt, giving him his first birdie since Hole 7, which was also a par 3.
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That put Kitayama back at 9-under, and more importantly, one-up with one hole left to play.
The world No. 2 and No. 3 golfers, Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler, respectively, were on Kitayama’s tail going into that 18th hole. McIlroy was a single stroke back, while Scheffler trailed by two.
But Kitayama remained cool in the moment, even after his drive went into some thick rough off to the left of the fairway. On his approach shot, he kept it safe, landing his ball about 47 feet from the hole.
Kitayama almost sent the crowd into a frenzy when his putt almost trickled in, stopping at the lip of the cup.
With that wonderful roll, though, he iced his victory and the definition of a tap-in putt brought a smile to his face.
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Speaking after the best even round of his life (he shot a 72), Kitayama was impressed with “how hard I fought.”
“I went south on 9, and all of a sudden I’m not leading anymore,” he told NBC. “I just fought back hard. I’m proud of myself for that.”
Not only was it his first career win, it was also the biggest payday of Kitayama’s career. To date, he’s earned about $4 million on the PGA Tour, according to Golf Channel.
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Well, he nearly matched that total with his first victory as the purse for the Arnold Palmer Invitational was $3.6 million.