Monday, March 06, 2023

By PA Sport Staff

Kurt Kitayama endured an eventful final round as he edged out Rory McIlroy to claim his first PGA Tour title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The 30-year-old American carded a triple-bogey seven at the ninth at Bay Hill, Orlando as he attempted to defend a single-shot overnight lead, but he gathered himself to come home in 35 for a second successive 72, which got him across the line at nine under par.

Asked how he was feeling, Kitayama told Sky Sports: “Ecstatic. I’ve been dreaming of this for a while. I’ve been close and to finally get it done feels amazing.”

Asked about his emotions throughout the day, he added: “I didn’t feel too off. For the most part, I was feeling in control. One loose swing there and maybe a bad kick left, it just happened.

“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.”

McIlroy found himself in a four-way tie for the lead on eight under as Kitayama stood on the 17th tee, but the American’s birdie two put him a shot clear with just the final hole to play.

He dragged his tee shot at 18 into the rough but managed to find the green with his second and left a monster first putt on the lip to clinch victory.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy had to settle for a share of second place. Photo: John Raoux/AP.

Northern Irishman McIlroy started the day three shots behind the leader and put himself in contention with a round of 70, which included seven birdies alongside five dropped shots, but he ultimately had to settle for a share of second with American Harris English.

Asked what his primary emotion was, McIlroy said: “Disappointment. I feel like I have myself a great chance after the birdie on 13, and then playing the final five holes in one over par, with this jam-packed field, isn’t really going to get it done.

“It was a battle all day. I felt like I hung in there really well, I just came up one short in the end. But Kurt played well and did really well to hang on in that back nine.”

Patrick Cantlay shot a 68 to tie for fourth with fellow American Jordan Spieth, defending champion Scottie Scheffler and England’s Tyrrell Hatton.

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