ORLANDO, Fla. — Kurt Kitayama only had to look around at the golfers next to him in the practice area and right below him on the leaderboard at Bay Hill Club to know what he was up against Sunday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
"You can't ignore it. You've got to know where you're at, and you know who is there — and just embrace the whole situation, I guess," Kitayama said after a final two hours of pure theater for his first PGA Tour win.
He got the result he desperately wanted in a fashion he never imagined.
First came the wild tee shot that sailed out of bounds on the ninth hole that led to a triple bogey and let an all-star cast — Harris English, Tyrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth — back into contention. And then the 30-year-old Californian, who has played on 11 tours around the world to hone his game, delivered the winner.
Part of a five-way tie for the lead with three holes to play, he drilled a 6-iron shot to just inside 15 feet on the par-3 17th, then holed that for a birdie to take the lead. From the gnarly rough left of the 18th fairway, he gouged an 8-iron shot onto the green to 50 feet. He could avoid a playoff — or worse — by getting in the hole with no more than two strokes.
The first one stopped an inch from the cup. The tap-in putt to complete a par round of 72 was the easiest shot he faced all day.
It gave him a one-shot win over Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, the four-time major winner who's No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and English, a 33-year-old Baylor School graduate who was seeking his fifth PGA Tour career win and instead got his best result this year and a spot in the British Open this July.
The soft-spoken Kitayama was due. Over the past year he had finished as a runner-up by one shot to Jon Rahm in Mexico, Xander Schauffele in Scotland and McIlroy in South Carolina. This time, he beat them all.
"I think just a little bit of luck finally went my way," Kitayama said. "When it's that close at the top, that's what you need. Anyone probably could have won it. Luckily, it just happened to be me."
He finished at 9-under 279 and earned $3.6 million, moving to No. 19 in the world.
McIlroy roared into the mix with four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn, took on a shot he didn't need because he didn't realize he was tied for the lead on the 14th, then ultimately missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 70.
English remarkably avoided bogeys the entire weekend at brittle Bay Hill. He missed an 18-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 70.
"I know Kurt more from European tour stuff," McIlroy said. "But he's done really well. He's persevered and played wherever he could get starts, and all of a sudden he's won one of the biggest events on the PGA Tour. So good for him."
The second-ranked Scheffler was a foot away from having a close look at a birdie on the 18th and a chance to take the lead. Instead, his ball spun back into the rough, his chip came out weakly and he finished with a bogey for a 73.
"I wish I played a little bit better, but at the end of the day I put up a good fight," Scheffler said. "But Kurt played fantastic golf today. I think to birdie 17 and par 18 to finish and win by one is pretty special."
He shared fourth with England's Hatton (72) and fellow American players Patrick Cantlay (68) and Spieth (70), who was among six players who had at least a share of the lead over the final two hours. After taking the lead with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole, Spieth played his last five holes in 3 over.
The crowd had a chance mostly because of one swing. Kitayama had a two-shot lead when he hit a wild hook out of bounds on the ninth hole, leading to triple bogey.
"All of a sudden, I'm not leading anymore," Kitayama said. "I just fought back hard, and I'm proud of myself for that."
Another Baylor graduate, Chattanooga native Keith Mitchell, closed with a 72 and tied for 24th at 2 under.
Echavarria 'happy with life'
RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico — Colombian rookie Nico Echavarria seized control with two straight birdies on the back nine and closed with a 4-under 68 for a two-shot victory in the Puerto Rico Open and his first PGA Tour triumph.
Echavarria was soaked on a sunny day at Grand Reserve, with friends and family spraying him with champagne after he tapped in for a par on the closing hole. He tied the tournament record at 21-under 267.
"I'm happy with life right now," Echavarria said. "After missing four cuts in a row, only making two cuts, you just doubt yourself. I'm very grateful I kept pushing and got it done."
Akshay Bhatia, a 21-year-old who turned pro at 17 and plays on the Korn Ferry Tour, closed with a 65 to finish alone in second and earn special temporary membership on the PGA Tour; he has unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season.
Carson Young, who led through 36 holes, had a 71 and tied for third with Nate Lashley (69).
The 28-year-old Echavarria, who played at Arkansas, is the third Colombian player to win on the PGA Tour, joining Sebastian Munoz and Camilo Villegas.
The victory gets him into The Players Championship, which tees of fThursday at TPC Sawgrass and boasts a $25 million purse. He also earned a spot in the PGA Championship in May and a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
Jin Young Ko ends drought
SINGAPORE — Jin Young Ko held off an early charge from Nelly Korda in the final round and closed with a 3-under 69 for a two-shot victory in the HSBC Women's World Championship, her first victory in a year.
Ko, 27, became the first player with back-to-back wins at the tournament and joined fellow South Korean player Inbee Park as the only multiple winners of the LPGA Tour event at Sentosa Golf Club.
She said it was the most important of her 14 wins on the LPGA Tour and 11 on the Korea LPGA because of going so long without a win while struggling with a wrist injury late last year. Ko was No. 1 in the world at this time a year ago and since had dropped to No. 5.
The second-ranked Korda also closed with a 69. The 24-year-old American ran off three straight birdies on the front nine to get within one shot, only to make bogey on the sixth hole. She never made another serious run at Ko, who finished at 17-under 271.
"It's always hard to play with Nelly, especially on Sunday," Ko said.
American players Allisen Corpuz (69) and Danielle Kang (68) and Japan's Ayaka Furue (67) tied for third at 14 under.
Toms recovers to win
TUCSON, Ariz. — David Toms got up and down for his third bogey of the week on the par-4 18th hole at Tucson National to beat Robert Karlsson by one stroke in the PGA Tour Champions' Cologuard Classic.
The 56-year-old Toms was surprised to learn his tee shot on 18 rolled into the water flanking the right side of the fairway. After a penalty drop, he hit his third shot right of the green, then left his chip about six feet short. He pumped his fist as the bogey putt curled in to secure his third victory on the 50-and-older tour.
"I hit it in the water three days in a row there, so we're not the best friends," Toms said of the 18th. "You know, to make a nice putt there in the end that I had to make, that was the difference. My putter was good all week. It had to be good again today."
Toms closed with a 4-under 68 for a 54-hole total of 15-under 202, holding off Karlsson (67), a 53-year-old Swede who won 11 times on the European circuit but has never won in the United States.
Gene Sauers (64) and Mark Hensby (65) were three shots back in third.