A day that started with world No. 1 Jon Rahm in the lead ends with Kurt Kitayama atop the leaderboard at the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational. With Rahm dropping from 7 under to 3 under in the space of an hour, the course took on new life after the world’s hottest player might have politely open the door for someone else to win a golf tournament.
Kitayama was the man in charge in the early hours of Friday morning, carding a second-round 68 to move to 9 under for the tournament. That number will hold steady for the rest of the day despite strong winds forecast for the late afternoon.
During that time, Jordan Spieth made a charge to 7 under to place just behind Kitayama. Although he is Kitayama’s closest competition, this is only one of many big names within reach. They are joined by US Presidents Cup teammates Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Cameron Young and Scottie Scheffler on the front page of the leaderboard.
1. Kurt Kitayama (-9)
This time last year, Kitayama was ranked outside the top 250 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Safely inside the top 50 to start the week, the 30-year-old remains in position for his first PGA Tour victory. Kitayama has shown flashes of brilliance, but only to outscore one of the game’s elite. Compiling three runner-up finishes in his last 23 starts, Kitayama fell behind Rahm at the Mexico Open, Schauffele at the Scottish Open and Rory McIlroy at the CJ Cup in South Carolina. If he’s not careful, one of those names could set him off once again.
“I think I’ve put myself in good positions. Right now I feel like I’m just trying to win, you know, it’s tough, especially with the guys I’ve been up against,” Kitayama said. “So I’ve got to keep putting myself in that position to give myself a chance … You get some good breaks and it’s your tournament, really. So I’ve just got to try to be there until the end.”
2. Jordan Spieth (-7)
T3. Xander Schauffele, Corey Conners (-6)
T5. Patrick Candley, Davis Riley, Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Thomas (-5)
T9. Cameron Young, Ludvig Aberg (a), Scottie Scheffler, Adam Scott (-4)
The main sticking point for this team is the presence of those typically absent from the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Prior to this week, Schauffele, Spieth, Thomas and Cantlay had combined for three tournament appearances. With the established status of this year’s event, the world’s best are proving that their games will travel regardless of the course.
Ram is human after all
The world No. 1 rode a hot finish to take the lead in the first round, but the tables turned on Friday. Hampered by a double bogey at the par-5 6th, Rahm played his final five holes in 4 over and went from leading this tournament to needing to play catch up on the weekend. With a round of 4-over 76 – his worst score since the 2022 PGA Championship – he is 3 under and six strokes behind Kitayama.
“Excuse my language, but it’s f—– hard,” Ram said with a laugh. “It’s firm, it’s fast and it’s blowing 30 miles an hour. It’s a very difficult golf course. Most of the day I got it right. It’s just the last five holes, even though I didn’t feel like I was making bad swings, I just couldn’t get it going and I finished the last line badly.”
Big day for a different No.1
The world No. 1 in the professional ranks may not be in the top 10, but the world No. 2 amateur is. Texas Tech’s Ludvig Aberg made back-to-back 70 laps to climb into 10th at the halfway point. Aberg currently checks in at No. 1 in the PGA Tour U Ranking, which is very important since the top player after the conclusion of the NCAA Championship will earn a spot on the PGA Tour.
“I think we’ve talked about it, and I think the more of these events you play, the easier it is going to be,” Amberg said. “It gives me a lot of knowledge about myself. Because it obviously exposes your game a lot more than a normal event does. We play greens that roll really fast. Then you get wind and you have a hard golf course. So it teaches you more about your game. I’m just trying to enjoy it and embrace it and take in as much as I can.”
2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational updated odds and picks
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
- Xander Schauffele (6-1)
- Jordan Spieth (13/2)
- Kurt Kitayama (2/17)
- Scotty Scheffler (9-1)
- Patrick Candley (9-1)
- Justin Thomas (11-1)
- Jon Rahm (11-1)
- Corey Connors (14-1)
- Matt Fitzpatrick (14-1)
- Rory McIlroy (22-1)
- Cameron Young (25-1)
- Max Homa (28-1)
Last year, Scheffler entered the weekend eight hits off the pace and continued Bay Hill’s history of powering the chasers. The top of this year’s leaderboard is significantly stronger with Spieth, Thomas, Schauffele and others, but there may still be a crack to get in. It should be wide enough for a pair of intriguing underdogs: Cameron Young at 25-1 and Max Homa at 28-1.
Young was 8 under through 14 holes Friday before finishing with two bogeys and a double. He drives the ball terribly and looks at himself. Homa is in the same boat, albeit a stroke further back at 3 under. Homa ranks in the top 10 in both tee-off and gain approaches, and should move up the rankings if his short-game woes subside.