The Punter's De-Brief: Classy Kurt hangs tough at Bay Hill

Golfer Kurt Kitayama
Kurt Kitayama with the Arnold Palmer invitational trophy

Our man's 70.069/1 in-play pick, Kurt Kitayama, has kept his calm to win at Arnie's Place and to edge inside the world's top-20. Steve looks back at his victory and ahead to the US Masters...

Generally a 420.0419/1 chance before the off but matched for plenty at 500.0499/1, and for a couple of pounds at as high as 940.0939/1, Kurt Kitayama was up with the pace all week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

As highlighted in the In-Play blog, I backed him after round one at 70.069/1 when he trailed Jon Rahm by two in a tie for second, but he was in front by two himself at halfway.

After a brave fightback on the back-nine on Saturday, he went into yesterday's fourth and final round leading by one and trading at 7.87/1.

Rahm was matched at as low as 2.56/4 before he tumbled down to a tie for 39th and he was the first of seven players to trade at less than 2/1.

The defending champ, Scottie Scheffler, never quite looked like winning but he hit a low of 2.3211/8 and Jordan Spieth, who hit the front with a birdie at the 13th was matched at just 2.226/5 before a sloppy finish saw him bogey the 14th, 15th and 17th to see him finish tied for fourth.

Alongside Scheffler and Spieth in a tie for fourth were Tyrrell Hatton, who hit a low of 2.56/4, and the fast-finishing Patrick Cantlay but Viktor Hovland put in another disappointing final round. The pre-event 36.035/1 chance traded no lower than 4.03/1 as he dropped to tied 10th with a lacklustre three-over par 75.

Harris English, an almost unconsidered 650.0649/1 chance before the off, threw his hat in the ring with birdies at 14 and 16 but he parred the last two to come up a shot shy having been matched at a low of 8.615/2.

He finished alongside Rory McIlroy in a tie for second after the Irishman had hit a low of 1.9420/21 when he hit his approach to 10 feet at the 72nd hole.

With Kitayama making a three-putt par at the par five 16th, it looked like Rory would lift the trophy for a second time if he could make the birdie three at 18 but the putt slipped by before Kitayama produced this piece of magic at the par three 17th to lead on his own again.

We haven't seen a playoff at Bay Hill this century, but it was long odds-on we were going to witness one yesterday.

It had been a tight leaderboard all day long and there were as many as eight players separated by a single stroke when Kitayama was playing 14th hole.

It was more a question of how many would go into extra time than whether we would need extra holes to separate the field but Kitayama's finish was deeply impressive and he came this close to holing his birdie putt on 18 to win by two!

Kitayama is the first debutant to win the title since Robert Gamez, way back in 1990, he's the first since Tiger Woods, in 2001, to win after making a triple-bogey (the 9th hole on Sunday) and he's the first player to win having made both a triple and double-bogey (the 4th on Saturday) since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1985!

It was a brilliant battling display by the 30 year-old Californian and it sees him climb up into 19th in the Official World Rankings.

Over at the Puerto Rico Open, pre-event 110.0109/1 chance, Nico Echavarria, had entered the final round leading by two and trading at 2.111/10 and after birdies at the opening two holes, a first PGA Tour success for the 28-year-old Columbian was never really in doubt.

Nico Echavarria.jpg

The halfway leader, Carson Young, slipped to tied third with a second successive one-under-par 71, alongside the early pre-event favourite, Nate Lashley, who signed off the week with a three-under-par 69, with the promising 21-year-old Californian, Akshay Bhatia, again catching the eye with a seven-under-par 65 to finish second - two behind the winner and three ahead of Young and Lashley.

Cantlay catches the eye

Patrick Cantlay finished fifth in the Jacksonville Open on the Korn Ferry Tour way back in 2012 and he finished second to Adam Hadwin at the Valspar Championship back in 2017.

However, that event is played on a far from typical Floridian layout and his form in the Sunshine State is generally poor, reading 5-MC-2-22-23-MC-MC-MC, so his tied fourth around Bay Hill on his tournament debut was very eye-catching.

I wouldn't be in a rush to back him in the Players Championship but the 27.026/1 he trades at to win the US Masters is interesting given he's no bigger than 20/1 on the High Street.

Movement in the Masters market

Jon Rahm was a firm favourite for the year's first major - the US Masters - prior to last week's Arnold Palmer but his back-to-back 76s after his opening 65 around Bay Hill have spooked the market and he's now sharing favouritism with Rory McIlroy.

Both men are looking to don the famous Green Jacket for a first time and the defending champ, Scottie Scheffler, who just came up short on his Arnold Palmer defence, is currently the third best.

The 2015 winner, Jordan Spieth, was backed down to 18.017/1 over the weekend but he's drifted back out after yet another flaky finish.

Scottish Open provides the clues

Links form always stands up well at Bay Hill but one event that proved a very strong indicator to this year's renewal was last year's edition of the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club.

The Scottish Open winner, Xander Schauffele, fell away over the weekend to finish tied for 39th having headed the market at halfway, Kitayama had finished second in Scotland, Cantlay finished fourth in both events and the English pair - Tommy Fleetwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick - both have fine form figures at both venues.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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