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Par Talk, published every Monday on OutKick, gets golf fans caught up on the biggest storylines in the game with insightful opinion you may or may not agree with.
Death, taxes, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational delivering incredible drama on Sunday. Far more often than not, the final round at Bay Hill turns into an all-out war, and this time around we were gifted with a battle featuring some of the game’s biggest stars and a guy named Kurt Kitayama who simply refused to crumble in the biggest moment of his career.
Speaking of crumbling, that’s one way to describe what Jordan Spieth did late in his final round.
While we’ll get into the magic that was this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, another week has passed which means there is more to discuss with LIV Golf, despite there not being a LIV event this week.
Let’s just go ahead and get right into this week’s edition of Par Talk, we have a lot to discuss.
Can Confirm: Kurt Kitayama Has That Dawg In Him
Heading into Sunday, everyone expected to see Kurt Kitayama give up his one-shot lead early in the round, tumble down the leaderboard, and not be a real factor come the back nine.
While Kitayama is an experienced player, he had zero PGA Tour wins under his belt and deploys a noticeable, anti-right-miss swing that was surely going to rear its ugly head.
There were also the likes of Viktor Hovland, Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Thomas, and Spieth all very much in striking distance. It seemed more likely than not that Kitayama was going to succumb to one of the top dogs and one of the game’s established stars was going to win just like the previous designated events this season.
Kitayama had a different plan in mind, even when adversity punched him in the mouth on the ninth hole.
The 30-year-old stepped to the tee on the Par 4 two-under on his round seeming to be very much in control of both his game and the moment. Then, things changed.
Kitayama pulled his tee shot out of bounds left and then hit his provisional tee shot into a fairway bunker. He walked off the ninth green with a triple bogey as at that moment it felt as if the wheels were about to fall off.
Kitayama went from having a two-shot lead with nine holes to play to trailing by one with eight holes left following his triple bogey.
He steadied the ship beautifully on the back nine while chaos seemed to be finding everyone else on the golf course.
Kitayama carded seven straight pars on the back nine before attacking the 17th hole while tied atop the leaderboard.
Nobody had figured out the lengthy Par 3 up to that point in the round, but Kitayama certainly did. He buried his 14-foot birdie try to take a one-shot lead to the 72nd hole. You could see the confidence oozing from his body after making a two on the 17th.
While he didn’t make it easy on himself on the final hole by finding the left rough with his tee shot, Kitayama showed off his putter yet again by leaving his 47-foot birdie putt hanging on the lip.
The UNLV product had the shortest tap-in of all time to secure his first win on Tour and a $3.6 million payday.
We can’t close the book on Kitayama’s week without mentioning the standard bearer in his group who allegedly (most definitely) had some money on Sunday’s festivities:
Jordan Spieth Surprisingly Limps Down The Stretch
Jordan Spieth came out firing on Sunday with four birdies through his opening five holes. It felt like we were in store for a vintage Spieth round where the wedges were spicy and the putter was hot, and that was the case for 13 holes.
Unfortunately for Spieth, he had five more holes to play while sitting at 5-under on his round and solo leader.
Spieth failed to get up and down after just missing the green on the Par 4 13th and hit a wayward tee shot on the 14th before carding his second consecutive bogey.
Despite the two mistakes, he was still very much in contention and it still somehow felt as if it was his tournament to lose. And lose it he did.
Spieth managed to miss a 6-foot birdie putt on the Par 5 16th hole before airmailing the gree on 17 and making his third bogey of the back nine. Ultimately, Spieth finished in a tie for fourth after carding a 2-under 70 in a round that could have easily been 68 or better.
While Spieth was undoubtedly gutted after his finish on Sunday, he is rounding into form one month from the Masters.
He has two top-six finishes in his last three starts and heads into The Players only looking to add to his confidence. A strong showing from him at TPC Sawgrass, where he traditionally hasn’t played well at all, would add only more hype as the Masters fast approaches.
Spieth is back to playing rollercoaster-style golf, which every golf fan can appreciate, and when he’s typically been his most dangerous.
Designated Events Are Delivering Everything We Could Have Hoped For
The Arnold Palmer Invitational was the fifth designated event of the new-look PGA Tour schedule, and five events in it’s safe to say that the Tour has struck gold thus far.
While Kurt Kitayama winning at Bay Hill may not excite the casual fan who simply sees his name atop the leaderboard, anyone who watched any golf this weekend understands how electric, and impressive, his victory was.
Prior to Bay Hill, we saw Jon Rahm win two designated events with Scottie Scheffler claiming the other at the Waste Management.
LIV Golf’s Influence On The Tour’s Decision Makers
The PGA Tour is adding more designated events to next year’s schedule, but with the catch that some will be limited field tournaments with no cut.
Spieth admitted last week that the designated events, massive purse increases, and other changes would not have come to fruition without the threat of LIV.
“I would be lying if I said that we would have gone through this without LIV,” Spieth explained. “But at the same time, we haven’t mentioned them in any of our discussions on what we think’s best for the Tour.”
“The whole point is trying to get the best players in the world playing as often as possible on the PGA Tour in the same events,” Spieth later continued. “And I think this scenario is a really good one and I think pretty close to the final of it with just a few kinks to get out.”
Will We Care About No-Cut Events Next Season?
I’ve made it clear that I’m out on the idea of no-cut events because it takes away possible storylines and life-changing weeks for the non-superstar Tour player.
LIV Golf’s entire model is based around a limited field, no-cut event where all LIV golfers are playing for is a larger paycheck to add to their already large bank accounts. What the Saudi-backed circuit lacks in drama and storylines are the exact things the PGA Tour has going for it, taking away the cut make the Tour more like LIV Golf, which is the exact opposite outcome the majority of fans want.
READ: WHAT THE PGA TOUR HAS THAT LIV GOLF NEVER WILL
With that being said, the no-cut designated events will feature the game’s biggest stars battling it out on the back nine on Sunday and most of us will forget there wasn’t a cut on Friday to begin with.
The golf nerds out there like myself will continue to whine about no-cut events because that’s what we do, we have to complain about something, but here’s to hoping they grow on everyone next year.
Players Week Has Arrived
We’re officially in the thick of the PGA Tour schedule now as we’ve finally arrived at Players championship week, and this year’s tournament should be both great and a little weird.
TPC Sawgrass always delivers, and it will again this upcoming weekend, but some familiar faces won’t be in the field.
The most familiar absentee will be the actual defending champion, Cam Smith. Given his jump to LIV Golf, the Aussie won’t be defending his title. While it’s a shame we won’t get to see the mullet man plot his way around TPC Sawgrass, we should still be witness to plenty of fireworks.
Keep it here at OutKick all week for coverage of The Players. Until then, we’ll see you for next week’s edition of Par Talk.
Follow Mark Harris on Twitter @ItIsMarkHarris