ORLANDO – On Sunday, someone will don the winner’s red alpaca sweater, the type Arnold Palmer wore with his unmistakable swagger and made famous. In a sport that has its share of green jackets and tartan and seersucker coats to celebrate its champions, the red sweater is a perfect fit for the champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Zach Johnson, a man who already has possessed a green jacket in his closet, may have said it best when asked what he’d do with Arnie’s red sweater: “I’d turn the A/C down really low and sleep in it.”
The leaderboard is stacked heading into the final round at Bay Hill. There are 11 players within five shots including its defending champion, Scottie Scheffler, past champions Rory McIlroy and Tyrrell Hatton, major champions Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, Ryder Cuppers Harris English and Viktor Hovland, the reigning Arnold Palmer Rookie of the Year Cameron Young, emerging talent Pierceson Coody and one of the hottest players in the game Max Homa. But they’re all chasing unheralded Kurt Kitayama, who is seeking his first PGA Tour title.
Kitayama, who held the 36-hole lead, overcame a shaky start to make birdies on two of his final three holes and card an even-par 72 to remain at 9 under and a stroke ahead of Hovland (66) and Scheffler (68).
“Just proud of the way I fought. Started off fairly solid first three holes and then one loose swing and I’m 2 over,” said Katayama, who made a double bogey at the fourth hole. “There’s no giving up. It’s just kind of in my nature, I feel like. Even when it’s going bad, you can’t just like pack it in. You fight for every shot.”
The tee shot OB right that led to a double at No. 4 proved to be a fluke – he hit 12 of 14 fairways on the day and ranks first on the week in driving accuracy – and after another dropped shot – a bogey at the ninth – he rebounded to make his first birdie of the day at 10.
“That was a big putt I made,” he said of the 24-foot birdie. “It got me settled down a lot more, for sure. Things felt like they could have easily spiralled out of control there. And then the finish, two of the last three. So that was good.”