GARDENS OF PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – Before the Honda Classic, Kurt Kitayama had missed his past five cuts and seven of his last nine.
Rory Sabbatini, a veteran of the game, stated his days of fighting toe-to-toe with the game’s most strong players are finished, and that in order to be successful, he must pick and select his positions.
After tangles with the challenging Champion Course at PGA National Resort in Thursday’s opening round of the Honda Classic, the two are, of course, at the top of the leaderboard.
Kitayama, who is rated No. 289 in the world, started his round with three straight birdies and then added four more on the back nine to finish with a 6-under-par 64. Sabbatini, the silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, shot 65 in his first round of the competition.
Daniel Berger, who was unable to defend his championship at Pebble Beach three weeks ago due to an ailing back, and Chris Kirk joined Sabbatini at 65.
Brooks Koepka, a four-time major champion, recorded a 68.
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Kitayama, who has two victories on the DP World Tour, is off to a slow start on the PGA Tour in his maiden season. He’s missed six cuts this season and ended in ties for 45th and 65th. His best recent finish was a tie for 11th place in the Korn Ferry Tour Championship in September of last year.
“I’ve felt like I’ve been playing well,” Kitayama said, “and I’ve started to figure out my putting to kind of find this kind of round.” “I believe when you’re having trouble, it’s just that self-motivation to keep getting better and figuring things out.” It’s sort of the only way to keep going.
“I hit 14 greens and drove it beautifully.” That, I believe, is quite vital out here. Then there were some birdie stretches where my putter was really scorching. “Everything seemed really solid.”
Sabbatini, who is rated No. 123 in the world, won the tournament in 2011, his sixth PGA Tour victory. The 45-year-old, who was aware that he had just recorded his first bogey-free round on the Champion Course in 37 attempts, said he can’t keep up with today’s weaponry in the game and must rely on experience.
“I think I’ve come to the stage in my game where, as much as I hate to say it, I feel legitimately competitive out here,” he added. “There are too many men out here with a lot more firepower, so I’ve just got to pick and choose my way around the golf course,” he says. “It’s become more of a chess game for me than a darts game.” I believe I’ve simply learnt to utilize my strengths while avoiding my weaknesses.
“Over the previous two years, there has been a lot of change. When you’re in a group with two guys whose total age is less than yours, you think to yourself, “Wow, this isn’t my sport anymore.”
It was, however, on Thursday.
“I kept the stress to a minimal since every time I missed, it was in the proper location,” he remarked. “However, this golf course isn’t going to allow you get away with three more rounds like that, so I’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do between now and tomorrow, as well as in the future.”
The silver medal, Sabbatini added, “is safe somewhere,” and winning it “was like sprinkling sprinkles on top of ice cream.”
He explained, “It was that little little treat at the end.” “When I’m out here, I’ll keep running the course for as long as I can, but it’s getting to the point where I’m going to be bucked off and I’ll have to go find something else to do.”
Berger, who has won four PGA Tour championships since 2016, missed two of his final three birdie putts inside 7 feet.
“I made some excellent putts there, and I think that’s the most important thing.” “I hit it where I wanted it to go and it didn’t go in, and that’s just the way golf is,” Berger explained. “As the week progresses, there will be plenty more of those.” The greens are both fast and undulating. Putts are difficult to come by out here.”