Kitayama embracing underdog role at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Kurt Kitayama, Arnold Palmer Invitational,(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Kurt Kitayama, Arnold Palmer Invitational,(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

In search of his first PGA Tour win at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, Kurt Kitayama is happy to embrace the role of underdog.

It is a small sample size, but the PGA Tour’s designated events to date have delivered incredible drama on every single occasion. This week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational appears as though it will follow suit with the biggest names in the game in close pursuit of a man who is looking for his first PGA Tour win.

Kurt Kitayama is that man. The 30-year-old who has won three times across the globe is fully aware of the fact that he is a significant underdog heading into Sunday’s final round at Bay Hill. It is a role he is prepared to embrace.

“Yeah, I think you just kind of accept it. You just look at the leaderboard, the rankings and what they have done. People probably cheering for them louder, you know,” Kitayama said following the conclusion of his third round on Saturday. “So there’s nothing I can do. Just embrace it.”

The Californian held the lead after Friday following a second round 68, and despite a sluggish beginning to his day on Saturday, Kitayama birdied the last to maintain his advantage going into the final round on Sunday.

The 72 he shot on Saturday wasn’t pretty. Kurt doubled on the Par 5, 4th, and added another dropped shot to his card to close out his front nine without a birdie to his name. But despite the rough start, Kitayama fought and scrapped, as he so often has throughout his career.

"“Yeah, I mean, I just feel like I’ve always grinded, no matter what I’m doing. Even just practice, trying to get better. Always been putting in the time. So I owe it to myself to, even when you get off to a rocky start, to keep fighting.”"

The three-time winner added. Kurt kept his card clean on the back and strung together four birdies to finish his day and maintain his narrow lead.

Kitayama’s previous wins include the Oman Open in 2019 on the DP World Tour, the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open at Anahita in 2018 on the Asian Tour, and a win on the Asian Development Tour in January of 2018 at the PGM Darulaman Championship.

A win on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational would be the biggest win of his career to date by far. It’s not the first time he has found himself in contention on the PGA Tour, however, he finished runner-up at the Genesis Scottish Open last summer and narrowly lost out to Rory McIlroy at the CJ Cup in South Carolina last October.

Kurt Kitayama will attempt to keep the best of the best at bay on Sunday.

Kurt Kitayama will have to scrap and grind once again on Sunday if he is to keep the world’s elite at bay during the final round of this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Defending Arnold Palmer Invitational champion, Scottie Scheffler, is not prepared to go quietly into the night as he fights to defend his title. Both Scheffler and Viktor Hovland find themselves just a shot behind Kitayama.

2020 API winner, Tyrrell Hatton sits just two shots adrift following a Saturday, 6-under 66, which sent him soaring up the leaderboard and well within striking distance of the lead.

Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Jordan Spieth all have a realistic chance of catching Kitayama heading into Sunday as well.

With so many big stars looking to capitalize on even the slightest mistake, and fans throwing their support behind Kitayama’s competition during Sunday’s final round, the 30-year-old in search of his first PGA win has a tall task in front of him.

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Kitayama has no choice but to embrace the task and role at hand on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a potentially career-defining win well within his grasp. Something he is fully prepared to do.