Kurt Kitayama leads Pebble Beach as the worst of the wind looms
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Kurt Kitayama is starting to feel more comfortable each time he gets in contention on the PGA Tour, and the Californian can only hope that’s the case going into the weekend at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Kitayama opened with 10-straight pars before getting on track and finished birdie-par on two of the tougher holes at Pebble Beach for a 2-under 70 that gave him a one-shot lead Friday.
Kitayama was at 9-under 134 and led by one over Keith Mitchell, Brandon Wu, Joseph Bramlett and Hank Lebioda.
The way the forecast looks, getting comfortable on the Monterey Peninsula takes on a different meaning.
Katayama’s last shot at his first PGA Tour win was in the fall in the CJ Cup of South Carolina at Congaree. He was tied for the lead going into the weekend with Jon Rahm, and he was in the final group and one shot behind Rory McIlroy going to the final round.
He also finished runner-up to Rahm in Mexico last year and to Xander Schauffele in the Scottish Open.
“I think the more you put yourself in that position the more you can get comfortable feeling uncomfortable,” Kitayama said. “It’s definitely good experiences to fall back on and use coming Sunday, hopefully.”
The contenders at Pebble don’t have that kind of star power. Of the leading 10 players, only four have won on the PGA Tour, and Scott Stallings is the only multiple winner.
Far more daunting is the fickle weather at this tournament.
Starting times for Saturday were moved up one hour because of strong wind, and it doesn’t take much in these parts for it to be a problem.
Lebioda felt it coming down the stretch Friday at Pebble Beach. He was leading most of the day until a double bogey on the par-3 fifth hole when he went well left of the green, dumped the next shot in a bunker and took three to get down.
He finished with a bogey and had to settle for a 72.
“It was definitely more difficult,” Lebioda said. “I thought there was a little bit more wind during my round than I had yesterday out at Monterey. Course is probably a little bit more difficult as well. So a combination of those two things made it a challenging round.”
Lebioda moves over to Spyglass Hill and becomes a unique footnote in history. Saturday will be his 11th consecutive PGA Tour round on his 11th different course. That’s partially a product of missing his last five cuts on tour.
He played Port Royal in the Bermuda Championship. He played the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island in the RSM Classic. He started this year playing three courses in The American Express. From there he was off to Torrey Pines on the North and South Course. And this week he’s been at Monterey Peninsula, Pebble and Spyglass Hill.
“We do our best to try to approach each round as its own event,” he said.
Mitchell (68), Wu (66) and Bramlett (67) all played at Monterey Peninsula.
Seamus Power of Ireland delivered the low round of a day that began with rain before giving way to steady wind and occasionally chilly weather when the shifting clouds kept the sun away. He had a 64 at Monterey Peninsula to get within two of the lead.
“The first five, six holes kind of rainy and the ball just wasn’t going anywhere. Not much wind,” Power said. “Then we got to the turn and then for like an hour, hour-and-a-half, it really blew like pretty strongly there for awhile. The last few holes was very pleasant.
“It was one of those days kind of like back home in Ireland where you get a lot of seasons in one day.”
Viktor Hovland, who won a U.S. Amateur and was low amateur in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, is playing this tournament for the first time. He shot 67 at Monterey Peninsula and was three shots to par behind.
Jordan Spieth had a 68 at Monterey Peninsula and was five behind.
They next face Pebble Beach, the toughest of the three courses in the wind because so many holes are exposed along the ocean.
Spieth was hoping for a little better Friday, but he was mildly pleased that the lead didn’t get too far away from him.
“Still in it,” he said. “But we got what looks like a tough couple days coming up.”