Kitayama Birdies No. 18 and Is Leading Scheffler, Hovland by One Stroke in API

Kurt Kitayama gave up the lead early in the day and then grabbed it back at the end.

The 30-year-old Kitayama, from Chico and UNLV, sank a 17-foot birdie putt on the final hole to cap an even-par 72 and take a one-stroke lead over defending champion Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland of Norway to the final round of the 58th Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla.

“I’m just proud of the way I fought,” said Kitayama, who is winless on the PGA Tour but has won three times around the world. “There’s no giving up. It’s just kind of in my nature. Even when it’s going bad, you can’t just like pack it in. You fight for every shot.

“I started off fairly solid the first three holes and then one loose swing and I’m two-over par. Then got some uncomfortable shots coming in on that front nine. It’s just tough. But making that birdie, that putt on 10, that helped calm things down.

“I’m really proud of how I was able to fight back to even-par.”

Kitayama made pars on the first three holes before hitting his drive out of bounds on the fourth hole and taking a double-bogey 7. He made a bogey at No. 9 before reeling off his only four birdies on the back nine against another bogey and carded a 54-hole score of eight-under 207.

The second-ranked Scheffler, who lost the No. 1 spot two weeks ago but can get it back by successfully defending his API title, birdied five of the last seven holes including the last three in a row to shoot a 68 to match his first-round score.

“It should be another fun one tomorrow,” said Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion. “That’s what’s exciting about our new schedule. I think we’re going to have a lot more of this stuff. I’m sure Viktor’s looking to beat me this year and I’m looking to do the same.

“There are a lot of talented guys on the leaderboard, though, and just about anybody in the top 10 can win in the final round. I’m not going to be too focused on anybody else other than myself going into tomorrow.

“I got off to a bit of a ragged start, but held things together in the middle before having that great finish with three birdies.”

Hovland, who has won three times on the PGA Tour and five times as a pro, is No. 11 in the world and trying to climb back into the top 10. He made a hole-in-one in the first round and on this day he birdied two of the first four holes and four of the last seven in a bogey-free 66.  

Tyrrell Hatton of England birdied five of the last eight holes to post a bogey-free 66 and is two shots behind in solo fourth, while third-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland had two birdies on each nine in a bogey-free 68 and is one more down in a tie for fifth with Harris English, who had a bogey-free 69.

Ninth-ranked Justin Thomas had one birdie and one bogey in a 72 and is three four stroke back in a tie for sixth with rookie Pierceson Coody, who made five birdies on the last six holes of the front nine in a 66, and Jordan Spieth, who had only two birdies in a 74.

Eight-ranked Max Homa of Valencia and Cal holed out from 26 feet for an eagle on the fourth hole in a second straight 71 and is five shots behind in a tie for 10th with Cameron Young, the 2021-22 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, who sank an eight-foot birdie putt at No. 18 for a 72.

Fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA shot 74 and is in a tie for 12th that includes sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, who had only two birdies in a 75, while top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain struggled to a second straight 76 and is in a tie for 44th that includes seventh-ranked Will Zalatoris of San Francisco, who had three birdies and three bogeys in a 72.        

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