Golf: Kurt Kitayama fires 64 to take one-stroke lead at Honda Classic over trio

Kurt Kitayama plays his shot from the ninth tee during the first round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort And Spa on Feb 24, 2022. PHOTOS: AFP

(REUTERS) - World No. 289 golfer Kurt Kitayama shot a career-low 64 on Thursday (Feb 24) to take a one-shot lead at six under after the first round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

The 29-year-old missed the cut in his past five starts, but that did not stop him from posting a low number at the PGA National Resort and Spa's Champion Course, known as a challenging track. He leads fellow Americans Daniel Berger, Chris Kirk and Slovakia's Rory Sabbatini, who shot five-under 65s.

Kitayama started on the back nine and birdied his first three holes, then recovered from a lone bogey by stringing together four more birdies at holes 3-6, the last a 21-foot putt from just off the green.

"Getting off to a start like that helps you relax," he said. "It takes a little pressure off going into the Bear Trap (Nos. 15-17 at PGA National). For me, starting off that way kind of calms me down."

Kitayama has three worldwide wins in Europe and Asia but none on the PGA Tour.

"When you're struggling, I think (there's) just that self-motivation to keep getting better and finding a way to figure it out," he said. "It's kind of how you've got to keep going."

Berger compiled five birdies, four on the front nine, during a bogey-free round. The Florida native is one of the highest-ranked players (No. 21) in the Honda field.

"I felt really comfortable out here and I got some good prep leading up to the week," he said. "I came out on Sunday before the tournament and played some golf. It was kind of a mellow week in terms of preparation, and like I said, sleeping in your own bed is always amazing."

Kirk had a wild ride with eight birdies and three bogeys, while the 45-year-old Sabbatini, last year's Tokyo Olympics silver medallist, matched Berger by avoiding bogey at PGA National for the first time in his career.

"When I did miss it today, I actually missed it in the right spots," said the South African-born Sabbatini, who carded five birdies. "Other than 4, which there's no good spot to miss it on 4, unfortunately, but the rest of the round I actually missed it in good spots that it was pretty easy and pretty straightforward up-and-downs, so I managed to save pars with very little stress."

Tied for fifth at three-under 67 are Americans Peter Uihlein, Andrew Kozan, Englishmen Aaron Rai and Danny Willett and Austria's Matthias Schwab.

Chile's Joaquin Niemann, last week's champion at the Genesis Invitational, opened with an even-par 70 and is tied for 45th. South African star Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, carded six bogeys and one double bogey en route to a five-over 75.

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