Kurt Kitayama Jumps into Top 6 with 1st PGA TOUR Win at Bay Hill
As the Sunday sun began to dwindle over Bay Hill, six former Ryder Cuppers — and Kurt Kitayama — were in a prime position to capture the Arnold Palmer Invitational title.
Kitayama, 30, had a two-stroke lead through eight holes, but then on the par-4 ninth, the Californian pulled his tee shot out of bounds by inches, resulting in a triple bogey. That allowed Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler, Tyrrell Hatton, Patrick Cantlay and Harris English back into the mix.
"Finding those little successes around the world and making it out here, putting myself in contention, you start to really believe in yourself, that you belong out here."
Kitayama, however, didn’t let the triple send him tumbling down the leaderboard. He stayed steady and then birdied No. 17 to break out of a five-way tie for the lead. Kitayama’s putt on the 72nd hole was a half-inch short of dropping for a birdie, but he’d happily tap in for par to claim his maiden PGA Tour victory.
“Going into the day you know who is near the top (of the leaderboard) and you just pay attention the whole day,” said Kitayama, who finished at 9 under and rose to No. 19 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “You can't ignore it. You got to know where you're at and you know who is there and just embrace the whole situation.”
It wasn’t the first time Kitayama embraced a challenge. He played collegiately at UNLV, but struggled on the Korn Ferry Tour afterward, so he took an alternate route to the PGA Tour, playing overseas for years. He’s teed it up on the Asian Developmental Tour, PGA Tour China, PGA Tour Canada, Sunshine Tour, Japan Tour, Asian Tour and DP World Tour.
Kurt Kitayama takes the SOLO LEAD heading to 18!— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) March 5, 2023
📺: @nbc and @peacock pic.twitter.com/saLiE4NVNR
"Finding those little successes around the world and making it out here, putting myself in contention," he said, "you start to really believe in yourself, that you belong out here."
Will his Arnold Palmer Invitational win help bring him to Marco Simone in Rome, Italy, for his first Ryder Cup?
Kitayama now sits within the automatic qualifying threshold as he soared from No. 82 to six on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list with his win at Bay Hill.
The six former Ryder Cuppers that Kitayama had to fend off Sunday all placed top-5. The Americans of that bunch continued their strong bids to be a Team USA member later this year in Italy, despite falling short of the victory Sunday at Arnie's Place.
Scheffler, Spieth and Cantlay all tied for fourth. Cantlay, behind his second consecutive top-5, stayed at No. 9 on the points list. Spieth jumps from No. 17 to 12 with his first top-5 of this season and Scheffler, who was the defending champion at Bay Hill, remains first in the standings.
Harris English rode a bogey-free weekend to a T-2 — the 33-year-old's best finish since his 2021 Travelers Championship victory. English won twice in ‘21 and earned his first Ryder Cup nod. However, in February 2022 he had surgery on his right hip and was out for five months. Finishing one stroke behind Kitayama, English went from No. 51 to 11 in his quest to play consecutive Ryder Cups.
U.S. Team Captain Zach Johnson first announced the 2023 qualifying structure last year. Points in 2023 are awarded as follows:
- 1 point per $1,000 earned at regular PGA Tour events beginning January 1, including the Zurich Classic and WGC events, through the BMW Championship (August 20)
- 2 points per $1,000 earned for winner of the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and The Open
- 1.5 points per $1,000 earned for all others that make the cut at the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and The Open
- No points available at PGA Tour opposite-field events
Points qualification will conclude immediately after the second FedEx Cup Play-Off event (BMW Championship) on August 20, 2023, with the top six eligible players on the points list securing spots on the U.S. Team.
The six remaining slots on the U.S. Team will be Captain’s Selections and will be announced by Johnson following the 2023 Tour Championship.
For a full list of the Top 100 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, click here.