By Kent Gray
Kurt Kitayama now has two European Tour titles in just 11 starts but perhaps even more impressive was the intestinal fortitude he displayed to secure victory in the Oman Open.
The 26-year-old American somehow overcame a calamitous start to his third round which left him seven back starting a marathon 33-hole Sunday at Al Mouj Golf to win the weather interrupted $1.75 million event by a stroke from a quartet of players: Spaniard Jorge Campillo, German Maximilian Kieffer, Frenchman Clément Sordet and Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti.
The €256,247 payday in Muscat followed his breakthrough victory in the AirAfr Asia Bank Mauritius Open in December in what was just his second start of the wrap-around season and his third European Tour appearance in total.
?️ Two-time European Tour winner Kurt Kitayama’s final round in 3 minutes. pic.twitter.com/rmAw6jCZUF
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) March 3, 2019
Kitayama is up to fourth in the Race to Dubai standings behind Abu Dhabi champion Shane Lowry, super consistent Ian Poulter and South African Richard Sterne, a fairytale rise given he needed to survive all three stages of the Q-School to earn his rookie season.
He was just a shot off the lead after 36 holes but started his third round with a quadruple bogey eight and dropped further shots on the 2nd and 3rd before darkness ended proceedings on day three. Clearly unaware when he is beaten, Kitayama came back Sunday morning to defiantly roll in six birdies and an eagle and eventually sign for a 71 – not bad considering he was six over through three holes – to give himself a shot at just three adrift of Zanotti starting the final round.
Having navigated the first 15 holes at level par, Kitayama posted back-to-back birdies to take the outright lead after the leading pack all dropped shots on the homeward stretch with Zanotti carding his third double bogey of the round on the 17th. A superb approach into 18 gave Kitayama two shots for the title after Kieffer’s playoff hopes died with a missed birdie putt, and he duly obliged to seal the title with a -7 total.
“This win feels really good because when I won my first title I was playing really well so I felt it was coming,” Kitayama said.
“this week, however, I came here after three missed cuts and I did not have good weekends in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. So I had to grind through this, especially after the bunker shot, so it feels great to just grind through all that.
“The comeback in the third round definitely helped me going into the final round and to get back in contention. With it being a continuous round kind of helped me cruise into the next one.’
Sordet, who won the European Challenge Tour’s Grand Final at this venue in 2017, will be ruing a missed opportunity at a first European Tour title after narrowly missing a short par putt on the 18th which saw him surrender his place at the top of the leaderboard.
Thomas Pieters, Joachim B. Hansen and Peter Hanson finished one further back for tied sixth while Scott Jamieson and English duo Chris Paisley and Ashley Chesters completed the top ten on four over par.
Meanwhile, last year’s champion, Joost Luiten, took a slice of 12th place after a third round 68 and final round 72 saw him overcome the disappointment of a five-over-par 77 in round two. He was joined by Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, Ireland’s Gavin Moniyhan, Denmark’s Jeff Winther and English duo David Horsey and Jordan Smith, who carded an impressive final round three-under-par 69.