Kitayama holds a one-shot advantage over Daniel Berger, Chris Kirk and Rory Sabbatini; Willett and Rai both three behind after the opening day – watch all week live on Sky Sports Golf
By Ali Stafford
Last Updated: 25/02/22 12:31am
English duo Danny Willett and Aaron Rai are both within three strokes of early leader Kurt Kitayama after the opening round of the Honda Classic in Florida.
Willett birdied his opening three holes on his way a three-under 67 at PGA National, leaving the 2016 Masters champion in the group tied-fifth and in touch with Kitayama at the top of the leaderboard.
Rai sits on the same score after closing his opening round with back-to-back birdies, while Kitayama set the pace after starting with three consecutive birdies and adding four more in a row on his second nine to post a six-under 64.
“I don’t think you get an easier day out here,” Kitayama said. “The conditions of the course are perfect, it’s just really tough. I think anything under par out here is really good. You’ve just got to watch the wind and see what happens.”
Olympic silver medallist Rory Sabbatini and Ryder Cup winner Daniel Berger lie a shot back in second alongside Chris Kirk, with Willett and Rai are in the group of five players tied-fifth.
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“To come out here and not make a bogey for 18 holes is a great start,” Berger said. “Just got to continue with that momentum for the rest of the week.”
Willett followed a 25-foot birdie at the first by draining a 30-footer at the next and adding a close-range gain at the third, before cancelling out a bogey at the fourth by rolling in from 25 feet at the par-three fifth.
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The Englishman ended a run of pars when he holed from eight feet at the par-four 14th, only to fall three fall behind when he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker to save par at the 16th.
Billy Horschel and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka is in the group four behind alongside England’s Callum Tarren, while Lee Westwood and Tommy Fleetwood both opened with a one-under 69.
“I didn’t do anything to really deserve to be four or five under,” Koepka said. “That’s a great score here. Just kind of ho-hummed it around. Like I sad, didn’t really deserve anything worse, didn’t deserve anything better.”
Just 44 of the 144-man field ended under par after the opening day, with Ian Poulter posting a one-over 71 and Louis Oosthuizen – the highest-ranked player in the field – struggling to a firsr-round 75.
Watch the Honda Classic throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage continues Friday from 11.45am on Sky Sports Golf.