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Kurt Kitayama pulls off underdog story of year on PGA Tour

30-year old Kurt Kitayama pulled off one of the biggest underdog wins in recent memory on Tour and won a crisp $3.6 million in doing so.
Kurt Kitayama kisses the Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy

Another half ball rotation. That’s all Kurt Kitayama needed to hole the coolest putt of his life. Fortunately for him, it didn’t matter.

Kitayama drained a stone cold ten-foot putt on hole 17 at Bay Hill in the Arnold Palmer Invitational to take a one stroke lead over a group of four players. Included in that group were Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy, two of the game’s top three current players.

Kitayama had yet to win on the PGA Tour but has had multiple second place finishes in the past few months. He was due to finally win a tournament. It just didn’t feel like this was the one.

Kurt Kitayama pulls off underdog story of year on PGA Tour

Bay Hill played like a major this week with thick rough and greens that gave players fits all weekend long but especially so on Sunday. Winless to this point in his career, a player such as Kitayama typically doesn’t hang on for the win.

That narrative got busted on Sunday.

Kitayama went to bed on Saturday night with a one-stroke lead at 9-under par. The two players chasing him, Scheffler and Viktor Hovland, spent Sunday last year at the same tournament battling it out for the win. It seemed like a formality that the same scenario would likely play out.

Hovland played in the final group with Kitayama and gave himself a chance all day long until his approach shot found the water on the par-5 16th and deflated his chance to hang around. Conversely, Scheffler birdied the 16th and now sat at 8-under par but a par-bogey finish saw his strong day go to waste.

Rory McIlroy posted the clubhouse lead at 8-under with his playing partner Harris English and waited patiently as Kitayama studied his long putt at the 18th to try and wrap up his first victory on Tour.

All of this goes without mentioning Jordan Spieth who put together a dazzling first five holes playing at 4-under and eventually getting himself to 10-under par for the tournament. Spieth spent the rest of the day playing in his typical erratic, yet entertaining fashion and carded a 2-under par to finish two shots off the pace.

Every single name mentioned so far has played in and won big tournaments. They’re all names that typically flirt with the lead at big tournaments and yet Kitayama pulled off the surprising win.

PGA Tour win becomes launching pad for 30-year old

It’s a big win for Kitayama. He played his way into The Open Championship with the win and now he’ll garner more attention from the golf world as he knocked off the brightest stars in the game.

All of this from a former UNLV graduate who was far from the best player on his team. He was never a big-time prospect but has carved out a nice career on the Tour and can now call himself a champion on the PGA Tour, a place where it is very hard to win.

He beat the odds at a major championship-caliber course in Bay Hill and did so in a dominating and clutch fashion. It took a few of the game’s best players faltering on the greens for Kitayama to pull off the victory but it was he himself that made those big time putts and played steady enough to win.

Not very often do you hit two balls out of bounds on the weekend, post a triple-bogey on the 9th hole, and still find a way to grind out a tournament win.

Props to Kitayama, the 30-year old without an official ranking on the OWGR website, for pulling off what will likely stand as the biggest underdog story of the season.


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