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Kurt Kitayama | Arnold Palmer Invitational

By The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Kurt Kitayama let an All-Star cast of contenders back into the tournament with a triple bogey, only to beat them all with a clutch birdie and the best lag putt of his life to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday.

With five players tied for the lead with only three holes left, Kitayama pulled ahead with a birdie putt from just inside 15 feet on the par-3 17th hole for the lead. Then, his 50-foot putt on the last hole stopped an inch from the cup.

The tap-in par for an even-par 72 might have been the easiest shot he had all day.

Rory McIlroy roared into the mix with four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn, only to miss a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole for the lead. He had a 70 and finished one shot behind. So did Harris English, who went bogey-free on the weekend at crusty, windy Bay Hill for a 70.

Defending champion Scottie Scheffler was a foot away from having a close look at birdie and a chance to take the lead. Instead, his ball spun back into the rough on the 18th and he finished with a bogey.

Jordan Spieth was among six players who had at least a share of the lead over the final two hours. He missed four straight putts inside 8 feet from the 14th through the 17th holes — three of them for par. He took the lead with a 15-foot birdie putt, then played his last five holes in 3 over. The finish was such pure theater that five players were tied for the lead deep into the final round, and all of them had chances to win. 

“I certainly felt it on the golf course, so I’m sure it was pretty good to watch,” McIlroy said. “It’s hard because the lead was changing hands with guys making bogeys, not really making birdies. So don’t know how people find that entertainment value.

“But it was a great back nine. It was great to be involved with,” he said. “I’m really happy for Kurt. He’s been playing well for a while now and I’m happy to see him get his first win.”

Of the top seven players, all of them have either won majors or played in the Ryder Cup. The exception is Kitayama, who groomed himself for a moment like this with so many close calls against players with polished pedigrees.

Check out “Watts” in Kurt Kitayama’s bag below.

Driver: TaylorMade Stealth 2 (10.5 degrees) – Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD UB 7 TX

3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 HL (16.5 degrees) – Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD UB 8 TX

7-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 (21 degrees) – Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD UB 9 TX

Irons: TaylorMade P7MC (4-6) TaylorMade P7MB (7-PW) – Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100

Wedges: TaylorMade MG3 (52, 56), Vokey Design SM9 WedgeWorks (60)

Putter: TaylorMade Spider X Hydro Blast

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x