Kurt Kitayama of Chico has won three times around the world and now he’s trying to get his first victory at home in the United States.
The 29-year-old Kitayama shot 6-under-par 64 in the first round to take a one-stroke lead over Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia, Daniel Berger and Chris Kirk in the The Honda Classic on the Champion Course at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“It was nice to have two weeks off coming into this tournament because I felt really refreshed from the start,” said Kitayama, who played college golf at UNLV. “My game was very sharp as I hit a lot of fairways and greens, and made a lot of putts, including some long ones. You never expect to make those, but it’s kind of a bonus when they go in.
“Conditions of the course are perfect. It’s just really tough. I’ve been playing well, I had a really good start to my round today and I’ve started to figure out my putting to kind of find this kind of round.”
Kitayama started on the back nine and birdied his first three holes before making his only bogey at No. 14, and then reeled off four straight birdies through No. 6. He made three putts of 20 feet or longer during his round.
Sabbatini, who won this tournament in 2011, collected four birdies on the back nine in his bogey-free 65, while Berger made four birdies on the front nine in another bogey-free round, and Kirk had five birdies on the front nine but also made three bogeys in his round and had to birdie the last two holes to tie for second.
“I feel very comfortable on this course because I’ve played it so many times,” said Berger, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour who grew up in the area and lives nearby in Jupiter, Fla. “It’s nice to have friends and family out here watching me play.
“It’s great to be able to go home and sleep in your own bed. I’ll get some rest tonight and hope to play as well tomorrow, but this is a tough course and it will be much more difficult in the next few days if the wind comes up.”
Said Sabbatini, 45: “I’m getting to that point in my game where I think I’ve gotten past where I feel like, I hate to say it, I’m truly competitive out here. There’s too many guys out here that have much more firepower, so I’ve just got to kind of pick and choose my way around the golf course. To me, it’s become more of a chess game and less about throwing some darts out there.”
Peter Uihlein made two late birdies in a 67 and is tied for fourth with Aaron Rai of England and rookie Andrew Kozan, who both birdied their last two holes, Danny Willett of England, who birdied four of the first five holes, and Matthias Schwab of Austria, who made three birdies on the front nine.
Former world No. 1 Brooks Koepka had only one bogey in his 68 and is in a huge tie for 10th with David Lipsky of La Canada Flintridge, Patrick Rodgers of Stanford, Billy Horschel, Cameron Young, Mito Pereira of Chile, Dylan Frittelli of South Africa, William McGirt, Ryan Palmer, Garrick Higgo of South Africa, Matin Contini of Argentina, Wesley Bryan, Doug Ghim, Bronson Burgoon, Seung-Yul Noh of South Korea, Stephan Jeager of Germany and Callum Terran of England.
Defending champion Matt Jones of Australia, who tied the course record with a 61 in the first round last year, struggled to a 73 and is tied for 103rd.
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