American Kurt Kitayama, seeking his first US PGA title, fired a six-under par 64 to seize a one-stroke lead through Thursday’s opening round of the Honda Classic.
The 29-year-old Californian, twice a champion at the DP World Tour, made birdie runs of three and four holes against a lone bogey at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
“Anything under par out here is really good. You’ve just got to watch the wind and see what happens,” Kitayama said.
“I drove it well, hit 14 greens. I think that’s really important out here. Then my putter was pretty hot in those birdie stretches. Everything felt really solid.”
Daniel Berger missed an eight-foot birdie putt at the par-5 18th hole that would have matched the lead and settled for a 65 to share second with Slovakian Rory Sabbatini, the Tokyo Olympic silver medalist, and fellow American Chris Kirk.
“I’m very comfortable. I played a lot of junior tournaments here,” said Berger, who lives nearby. “It’s nice to get off to a good start and I hope to do the same thing tomorrow.”
Darkness fell with three players on the 18th hole. They will finish the first round Friday.
Kitayama, ranked 284th in the world, missed the cut in his past five PGA starts. He won the 2018 Mauritius Open and 2019 Oman Open on the DP World Tour but his best finish in 25 prior PGA starts was 17th at the 2017 Puerto Rico Open.
Kitayama started on the 10th tee and birdied his first three holes on putts of 17, eight and 12 feet.
“Just getting off to a start like that helps you relax. It takes a little pressure off. Starting off that way kind of calms me down,” Kitayama said.
“I felt like I’ve been playing well and I’ve started to figure out my putting to find this kind of round.”
His lone bogey came at 14 when he was short of the green with his approach.
Kitayama answered with the longest birdie streak of his career with four in a row, the longest being the last — a 20-footer at the par-4 sixth.
“Still early, so just try and keep the same game plan, stay patient the whole time and not really think about too much really,” Kitayama said.
– ‘Not my sport anymore’ –
Sabbatini, 45, had a bogey-free round on a course where he won in 2011. He had a tap-in birdie at the par-5 third, birdies from about five feet at 10 and 11, sank a 22-foot birdie putt at 14 and closed with a six-foot birdie putt.
“I’m getting to that point in my game where I think I’ve gotten past where I feel like, I hate to say it, truly competitive out here,” Sabbatini said.
“There’s too many guys out here that have much more firepower. I’ve just got to pick and choose my way around the golf course, so to me it has become more of a chess game and less about throwing some darts out there.
“I’ve just learned to maximize what my abilities are and stay away from my inabilities… When you play with two guys and their combined age is less than yours, you’re thinking, wow, this is not my sport anymore.”
Kirk, who birdied five of the first seven holes but stumbled with three bogeys, sank a 13-foot birdie at the par-3 17th and tapped in for birdie at 18 to share second.
Berger opened with a 20-foot birdie and had three birdies in the first four holes then sank a 27-foot birdie putt at the ninth and a 10-footer at 11 in a bogey-free round.