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Kurt Kitayama wins first PGA TOUR title at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Kurt Kitayama wins first PGA TOUR title at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Kurt Kitayama held off a stellar chasing pack to claim his maiden PGA TOUR title with a dramatic one-shot victory on his first appearance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida.

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Kurt Kitayama qualified for the DP World Tour Championship last season

The American recovered from a triple bogey at the ninth in the final round to card an even par 72 to finish one stroke ahead of Rory McIlroy and fellow American Harris English on nine under par.

In 2019, 30-year-old Kitayama became the fastest player to win twice on the DP World Tour with victories in Mauritius and Oman in his first 11 starts.

McIlroy missed a ten-foot birdie putt on the 18th green as he settled for a closing 70 which featured seven birdies and five bogeys to narrowly miss out on his second career victory at Bay Hill.

Kitayama, who is the first player since 1990 to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational on his tournament debut, climbs from 46th to a career-high 19th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I've been dreaming of this for a while,” he said. “I've been close and to finally get it done feels amazing.”

McIlroy was bidding to reclaim top spot in the world rankings from Jon Rahm with a victory and appeared on track to do so when he made it three birdies in four holes at the 13th to hold a one-shot lead.

The four-time Major Championship winner made bogeys at the 14th and 15th, before recovering one of those dropped shots on the 16th but he could only manage par on the final two holes.

"It's disappointing," said McIlroy.

"I felt like I gave myself a great chance after a birdie on the 13th and then to play the final five holes in one over par, with this jam-packed leaderboard, isn't really going to get it done.

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Rory McIlroy was aiming for his second worldwide win of 2023 after claiming the Hero Dubai Desert Classic title in January

"It was a battle all day. I felt like I hung in there really well and just came up one short in the end."

Tyrrell Hatton, a winner of this event in 2020, finished in a share of fourth place alongside defending champion Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth, who started with four birdies in his first five holes.

Kitayama qualifies for The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool as a result of his win alongside fellow American pair English and Davis Riley, who shot a final round of 66 to finish in a share of eighth place.

“It’s going to be amazing to play in The Open,” said Kitayama. “It’s always a great feeling to play in the majors.”

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