Kurt Kitayama was lifted by the wind, while top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain was simply blown away.
The 30-year-old Kitayama, from Chico and UNLV, carded a four-under-par 68 to take a two-stroke lead over Jordan Spieth midway through the 58th Arnold Palmer Invitational in breezy conditions at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla.
Rahm, who led after a first-round 65, struggled to a 76.
“It’s always a fun challenge keeping yourself in the moment,” said Kitayama, who played the DP World Tour and the Asian Tour for several seasons and has three victories around the world. “I feel like when you get conditions like this, it’s easy to kind of let things get away from you. For me, it’s just keeping myself focused the entire way.
“Not finding success early (in United States) was disappointing, but it took me somewhere else to grow. Just dealing with adversity, really. When you’re in a random country in Asia and you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going, it’s pretty frustrating and honestly kind of scary a little bit.
“But I got through it, and here I am.”
Kitayama, who has finished second on the PGA Tour three times in the last two seasons, capped his round with an 11-foot putt on the 18th hole for his fifth birdie to go against a lone bogey at No. 16 and recorded a 36-hole score of nine-under 135.
Spieth, a three-time major champion who has 13 victories on the PGA Tour, made bogeys on the first and last holes of the back nine but had four of his five birdies in between while posting a score of 69 thanks to a 27-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.
“The wind was up today, so my goal was to shoot anything under par,” said Spieth, who hit his tee shot on the last hole up against the fence but scrambled for a bogey. “It was really windy this morning, but it died down a little bit for us in the afternoon and I was able to make some birdies coming in. It was nice to see some putts fall in.
“I made some of the best swings I’ve made in a long time on the back nine, but then I had maybe the worst I’ve ever hit at No. 18, and was able to get out of there with a bogey. Hopefully, I got that one out of my system, but that’s just the way golf is sometimes.
“I made a couple of nice two-putts for par, and I stole a birdie on No. 17.”
Corey Conners of Canada birdied five of the first eight holes on his way to a 68 and is three shots back in a tie for third with sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, who made two of his three birdies coming home in a 70.
Fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA birdied two of his first six holes en route to a 71 and is four behind in a tie for fifth with ninth-ranked Justin Thomas, who collected eight birdies and three bogeys in a 67, Matt Fitzpatrick of England birdied the last three holes for a 69, and Davis Riley, who made three straight birdies through No. 17 in another 69.
Second-ranked Scottie Scheffler, the defending champion, had two birdies and two bogeys in a 72 that left him five strokes back in a tie for ninth with 14-time PGA Tour winner Adam Scott of Australia, who was four-under before closing with three straight bogeys for a 71, 2022 Rookie of the Year Cameron Young, who double-bogeyed the last hole for a 73, and World No. 1 amateur Ludvig Aberg of Sweden and Texas Tech, who shot a second straight 70.
Rahm hit two shots into the water and played his last five holes in four-over to cap his 76 and is in a tie for 13th with eighth-ranked Max Homa of Valencia and Cal, who birdied two of his first three holes in a 71, while third-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is tied for 20th after making one bogey in a 69, and seventh-ranked Will Zalatoris had three late birdies in a 72 and is tied for 53rd.
“It’s firm, it’s fast and it’s blowing 30 miles an hour,” said Rahm, who has won five of his last nine starts, including the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club two weeks ago. “It’s a very difficult golf course.
“For most of the day I managed it. It’s just the last five holes, even though I didn’t feel like I was making bad swings, I just couldn’t quite get it going and finished poorly on the last stretch. Luckily, I shot seven-under yesterday, so I’m not too far off.”
Tenth-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal finished at 74-73—147 and missed the cut by one stroke.
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