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 in Orlando, Fla.
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.
Kitayama had a two-shot lead when he hit a wild hook out-of-bounds on the ninth hole, leading to triple bogey.
Kitayama finished at 9-under 279 and earned $3.6 million.
“It went south on 9,” Kitayama said. “All of a sudden, I’m not leading any more. I just fought back hard, and I’m proud of myself for that.”
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.
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.
Now he’s No. 19 in the world, with a red cardigan sweater for winning at Arnie’s place and a big feather in his cap for the players he had to beat.
PGA — Colombian 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 for his first PGA Tour title.
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,” Echavarria said. “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. Carson Young, who led through 36 holes, had a 71 and finished third tied with Nate Lashley (69).
Echavarria, a 28-year-old who played at Arkansas, becomes the third Colombian to win on the PGA Tour, joining Sebastian Munoz and Camilo Villegas.
LPGA — Jin Young Ko won for the first time in a year at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore and hopes this signals a new start from a year of battling injuries that cost her the No. 1 ranking.
Ko answered an early charge by Nelly Korda, held her nerve during a 58-minute storm delay late in the round and closed with three straight pars for a 3-under 69 and a two-shot victory.
Ko now has 14 career wins on the LPGA Tour, including two majors, along with 11 titles on the Korea LPGA. She called this win her “most important.”
“Because I had a tough year last year and fought with injury, and not good game and mentally tough and everything,” Ko said. “And then I won this week.”
Ko has been at No. 1 in the world ranking longer than any active player, and she was on top of the world when she won in Singapore a year ago. But then she began to struggle with her wrist, and even taking time off for rest late in the year didn’t seem to help. She now is No. 5 in the world.
Taking down an familiar foe in Korda only added to the moment.
“It’s always hard to play with Nelly, especially on Sunday,” Ko said. “We had a lot of times to play in 2021. She hits it farther than last year, I think, so I don’t look at her ball. It’s hard, but love to compete with Nelly.”
Ko finished at 17-under 271.
Champions — David Toms got up-and-down for his third bogey of the week on the par-4 18th hole at Tucson (Ariz.) National to beat Robert Karlsson by one stroke in the Cologuard Classic on the PGA Tour Champions.