Kurt Kitayama comes from behind to clinch Oman Open


Kurt Kitayama came from behind to clinch his second European Tour title this season at the Oman Open 

Kurt Kitayama came from two shots behind with three holes to play to post a final round two-under 70 to win his second European Tour title in just 11 starts during a dramatic and unpredictable final day at Al Mouj Golf.

The 26-year-old American held the first round lead in Oman and stayed within a shot at the half-way stage, but a disastrous start to the weather-affected third round led many (including the champion himself) to doubt whether he could challenge for the title. 

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Kitayama had opened his third round with a quadruple bogey and followed it with two more dropped shots in a row before darkness stopped play, but the break proved to be the change in momentum he needed. 

From there, he recovered with six birdies and an eagle as he finished his third round on Sunday morning to get to within three shot of the Fabrizio Zanotti's 54-hole lead. 

"The way we started that third round, I was like, 'can we stop right now?', Kitayama said. "It gave me a refresh and it was incredible coming back."

The final round featured an ever-changing leaderboard that made it impossible to predict until the last, when co-leaders Zanotti, J.B. Hansen, Clement Sordet and Maximillian Kieffer all dropped shots over the final stretch of holes to leave Kitayama with the spoils. 

"This one feels really good because when I won the first one I was playing really well and it just felt like it was coming," Kitayama said. "This week I came in off three missed cuts and not having good weekends in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It feels great to grind through all of that."

The eventual winner closed the gap quickly on Zanotti, who carded the first of his three final round double-bogeys on the fourth, leaving a five-way tie at the top.

But Kitayama, who had made back to back birdies on the third and fourth holes to join the leaders, gave those shots back with bogeys on both seventh and 11th holes as Hansen momentarily looked to be in the driving seat of the contest after getting to eight-under-par after the sixth. 

Hansen gave two of those shots back on the eighth and 11th holes, and a birdie on the 13th moved Clement Sordet in to the lead on seven-under, where he was soon joined once more by Hansen, Zanotti and Kieffer before each player made crucial mistakes on the back nine. 

Hansen was the first player to fall out of the leading pack with a bogey on 14, Sordet three-putted the final hole to drop back to six-under with clubhouse leader Jorge Campillo, and Zanotti four-putted from inside 20-feet on the 16th. It left Hansen and Kitayama's playing partner Kieffer ahead by one with two holes to play, but he chunked his approach to the 17th hole and could do no better than a bogey. Meanwhile, Kitayama cleaned up a second consecutive birdie with a long range putt on the same hole to earn a one-shot lead, from what felt like nowhere. 

The 18th hole has a tee-shot over water and is set up for a potentially dramatic finish, but  Kitayama showed real composure as he opted for a conservative fairway-finding iron off the final tee, while both playing partners decided to take a more aggressive approach with a driver. 

Hansen ended up in the water with his driver, washing away any hopes of him earning a spot in a playoff, but Kieffer found the fairway and still was in with a chance. Both players found the green with their approach shots but Kitayama's was the closer of the two at around 20 feet. In the end, Kieffer failed to give his uphill birdie putt enough and Kitayama needed a straightforward tap-in par to win his second European Tour title on seven-under-par. 

Campillo, Sordet, Kieffer and Zanotti shared second place on six-under, while Hansen's final-hole bogey dropped him in to a share of sixth with Peter Hanson and Thomas Pieters. 

Scott Jamieson, who was part of the early pack of leaders, dropped three shots over his last six holes to end up in a tie for ninth place with Ashley Chesters and Chris Paisley on four-under.

Kitayama's victory has now moved him to fourth in the Race to Dubai Rankings.