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Kitayama Kicks Up a Storm in the Desert

By: | Mon 04 Mar 2019 | Comments

Kurt Kitayama certainly doesn’t believe in doing things the easy way. The American produced a remarkable comeback at Al Mouj Golf to win his second European Tour title of the season at the Oman Open.

The American was a single shot off the lead after 36 holes of the weather delayed event but started his third round with a quadruple bogey eight and dropped further shots on the second and third before darkness ended proceedings on day three. That left him seven shots off the lead heading into a marathon Sunday of 33 holes but he made six birdies and an eagle to sign for a 71 and keep his hopes alive heading into round four.

He was still two shots back with three holes to play but birdies on the 16th and 17th saw him sign for a 70 and get to seven under, a shot clear of Spaniard Jorge Campillo, German Maximilian Kieffer, Frenchman Clément Sordet and Paraguay's Fabrizio Zanotti.

Kitayama came through all three stages of the Qualifying School and now has two wins in just 11 European Tour starts after his victory at the Mauritius Open. The 26-year-old held the first round lead in Muscat and on day two made one of the pars of the season by getting up and down on the third after high winds blew his ball off the green and into a bunker.

"This one feels really good because when I won the first one I was playing really well and it just felt like it was coming," he said. "This week came off three missed cuts and not having good weekends in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It feels great to grind through all of that. The way we started that third round, I was like, 'can we stop right now?'. It gave me a refresh and it was incredible coming back."

Kitayama was still three shots off Zanotti's lead heading into the final 18 holes. A huge drive at the second left him a flick in to the green and a long putt at the third brought a second birdie of the day. He was in a five-way tie for the lead after five holes but bogeys on the seventh and 11th dropped him back.

Dane Joachim B. Hansen bogeyed the second but picked up shots on the third, fifth and sixth to hold the solo lead, a one shot advantage he still held at the turn despite a bogey on the eighth.

He dropped another shot on the 11th and Sordet assumed top spot as he put his tee shot on the par three 13th to eight feet to add to gains on the first and third. Hansen got on the green at the par five 12th in two to rejoin the lead and playing partner Kieffer did the same after earlier bogeying the third and birdieing the tenth.

Zanotti sandwiched a birdie on the fifth with double bogeys on the fourth and ninth to turn in 39. But birdies on the 13th and 14th made it a four-way tie at the top until Hansen bogeyed the 14th, Sordet dropped a shot on the 16th and Zanotti four putted the 16th for a third double bogey of the day.

Kitayama produced a great chip on the 16th to set up a birdie and moved to six under but ahead on the 17th, Sordet holed a 30 foot putt to go to seven under alongside Kieffer. It was anybody’s tournament. However, Sordet three-putted the 18th to handed Kieffer the lead again before the 28-year-old bogeyed the 17th after coming up short of the green. It was as if nobody wanted to win.

An 18 foot putt from Kitayama then brought a second consecutive birdie and he parred the last to seal a victory that moved him to fourth in the Race to Dubai. Zanotti birdied the 18th to move into a share of second, while Hansen dropped a shot to slip to five under alongside Swede Peter Hanson and Belgian Thomas Pieters, the pre-tournament favourite. Campillo was left to rue a nine on the par three fifth in round two as he made four birdies and a bogey in the closing round and looked set for a play-off before Kitayama's big finish. Hanson signed for a 73 and Pieters a 71 to sit a shot ahead of English pair Ashley Chesters and Chris Paisley, and Scotland's Scott Jamieson, with ten countries represented in the top 11.


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IT IS not just the fact that he won his first PGA Tour title that Keith Mitchell will remember. It is the nature of how he achieved it and who he beat. The 27-year-old American won the Honda Classic by holing a 15-foot birdie putt on the final green to defeat none other than Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler.

Mitchell, 27, birdied four of the final seven holes on his way to victory. "My mind started wandering there a little bit at the end and then I hit a great putt," he said. "It's not even close to sinking in. I don't expect it to, I don't want it to, this is just awesome. Playing like I did coming down the stretch is unbelievable."

Vijay Singh missed the chance to create history after a closing round of 70 left him in sixth place. The 56-year-old Fijian had been attempting to become the oldest winner on the PGA Tour, surpassing the record set by the 52-year-old Sam Snead in 1965.

Mitchell closed with a 3-under 67 to finish at nine-under 271 at PGA National. This is his first victory as a pro -- including stints on the Web.com Tour and PGA TOUR Latinoamerica.

On a thrilling final day, Koepka shot a 66, and Fowler a 67. They both birdied the 18th, and Fowler birdied three of his final four holes, including a huge snaking putt at the 17th.

But Mitchell kept his head. He was on the upslope of a fairway bunker about 205 yards from the pin for his second shot at the par-5 18th. He couldn’t reach the green and left himself a wedge for his third. He left it 15 feet from the hole and duly drained the putt. Ryan Palmer (63) and Lucas Glover (66) tied for fourth at 7 under. For a while, it looked like Palmer might steal the tournament.

He was tied for 48th after the opening round, 51st after 36 holes and 39th when the final round began. But he started with four straight birdies on the way to going out in 29 - the first player to ever do that in a final round at the Honda. He rolled in a 25-footer from just off the green for birdie at the par-four 16th, then stuck his tee shot to six feet and made birdie at the par-three 17th.

When he finished at 2.32pm, he was two shots back and the final group was on the fifth hole.About two hours later, he was in the outright lead. Not long after that, he was in a six-way tie atop the leaderboard.  Palmer later lamented that he needed to birdie the 18th but it wouldn’t have been good enough anyway.

Mitchell started his day with two bogeys, which sent his mind racing back to past attempts where he got close and had a final-round falter. Not this time.

"I said, `I am not letting this happen again,'" Mitchell said.

Singh, the 56-year-old who was bidding to become the oldest winner of a PGA TOUR event ever --Sam Snead was 52 when he won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open-- was right there until the end. Singh, who hasn't won on this tour since 2008, settled for outright sixth after a final-round 70. He had a birdie putt for a share of the lead on the par-3 15th, leaving a 25-footer well short.

Clark, the third-round leader, was two shots clear of everybody when he made an uphill putt from just right of the green on the par-4 4th, that birdie making him 9 under. But he made bogeys on four of his next eight holes, falling off the pace.

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