Kitayama closes on Route 66 in Oman

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Kurt Kitayama is looking to back up his win in Mauritius with another strong showing in the Oman Open after his opening round of 66. Picture by GETTY IMAGES

KURT Kitayama carded a six-under par 66 to lead the Oman Open after the first round at Al Mouj Golf.

The American, who earned his card for 2019 at Qualifying School and then won his first title in just his third European Tour start at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open, at Anahita, parred the first five holes and then birdied the sixth and eighth holes to make the turn in two-under par.

He then birdied the 11th and eagled the 12th to join early pace-setters Scott Jamieson and Yusaku Miyazato on five under par before taking the outright lead with his fourth birdie of the day on the 16th hole.

A delighted Kitayama said: “Conditions were pretty tough, so to be bogey free was really good. My putting was great, I had great speed.

“I had a great putt on 17 from 60 feet to leave a tap-in. Then my last putt over a ridge was great. I made a few putts outside 10 feet so that was really nice.

“On 11 I drained a 40-footer. Hit a great second into the 12th, giving myself 15 feet and I was able to drain that. I got a little lucky out there.

“I made quite a few putts, so hopefully I can do that tomorrow too. Hopefully we can take advantage of some calmer weather in the morning.”

Jamieson who spent four years at Augusta State University before turning pro in 2006 – and is still searching for a second win after claiming the Nelson Mandela Championship at the end of 2013, said: “I drove it well and putted well. I didn’t hit my irons particularly close but I think that’s difficult to do round here.

The greens are firm with a lot of run-offs, you find yourself playing away from the flags. I had a chance to hole some nice putts and I had a chip-in on 17 as well which was nice.

“You can’t go for it here. You can hit some really good shots which would just run off the side of the green, and then you’ll have a really tough up-and-down.

“You need to stay patient, play away from the flags and hope you can hole some putts.”

Seven golfers share fourth place on four-under par, including Alexander Levy, who came fourth at last year’s Oman Open, and 2016 Ryder Cup player Thomas Pieters, who is making his first appearance at this event.

Pieters, who has not won since the Made In Denmark tournament just before the 2016 Ryder Cup, said: “I’m very happy. I drove it well today and made some good putts. I’m happy with how I hit it. I had a dumb bogey on the last, but I’ve forgotten it already.

“I had a really good up and down on the 11th and made a 15-footer for par and then a 30-footer for an eagle. I made a lot of pars. I hit a lot of greens and some of these flags are tough. It was nice to get out early and have the calmer wind.”

Defending champion Joost Luiten, who flew in from the WGC-Mexico Championship on Tuesday morning, made a strong start to his title defence with a three under par first round.

Luiten said: “It was a pretty good day, I think. I started the day with a bogey on the first, I fought back hard to get to four under. I’m a bit annoyed with the bogey on 17 but, overall, I don’t think I can complain too much.

“The greens are rolling so pure. I made a couple of nice putts. It was tricky with the wind out there, but once you got on the greens you could make some nice putts.”

Hugo Leon, Zander Lombard and Tom Murray had to finish their first rounds on Friday morning after play was suspended due to darkness – the trio had just the 18th hole to play.

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