A Win For Chris Kirk
Chris Kirk outduels Eric Cole in a playoff to win 2023 Honda Classic
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The emotions came streaming out for Chris Kirk as the final putt in the final Honda Classic settled into the bottom of the cup.
Kirk, four years removed from taking a leave of absence from the PGA Tour to get his life back on track, was a winner again, outlasting Eric Cole on the first playoff hole Sunday at PGA National.
“I just have so much to thankful for,” Kirk said. “I’m so grateful for my sobriety. I’m so grateful for my family. I’m so grateful for everyone that’s supported me throughout the past three or four years especially.”
Kirk gave up the lead on 18 after his second shot hit a stone wall and splashed down just feet from the floating Honda Pilot Trailsport (both players finished 14 under). He then won it on 18, the first playoff hole, with a birdie.
The win was Kirk’s fifth on the PGA Tour, first since 2015 at Colonial. The 37-year-old takes home $1.512 million and will go down as the last winner of the Honda Classic. The tournament is seeking a new title sponsor with American Honda ending its sponsorship after 42 years.
Kirk took an indefinite leave from the sport in May 2019 to deal with alcohol abuse and depression. His life was in a downward spiral and he attempted to get it back on track on his own.
It was not working.
He returned after a seven-month break and struggled with his golf. But that was not important.
Kirk’s life was back in order.
After returning, he played in 11 events in the 2019-20 season and missed five cuts. He had one top 25 finish.
But his game slowly has been coming back to form since. From the start of the 2020-21 season to this week, he had 10 top-10 finishes, including a runnerup in the 2021 Sony Open in Hawaii.
Kirk’s last three starts entering Honda: third at the Sony Open in Hawaii, tied for third at the American Express, missed cut at the WM Phoenix Open.
“Coming down the stretch I felt good,” he said before admitting he made a “bad swing at the wrong time,” on the 72nd hole.
Talking about his past problems
Kirk has never backed away from talking about the darkest days of his life. He has said the reason never was to send a message to others. But when a professional athlete uses his platform to open up about something so personal, that can be powerful and impactful.
“I think more than the time, just how much my life has changed in that time, getting close to four years of sobriety, and that is the reason why I’m able to play,” he said. “It’s the reason why I have such a great relationship with my family. Everything that I have is because of that. I have to remember that first and foremost, and it’ll sink in eventually, but it certainly hasn’t right now.”
So when Kirk is on an emotional rollercoaster coming down the stretch of a PGA Tour event, he’s faces more pressure.
Kirk entered the final hole of regulation in control. He ceded that control when the ball narrowly missed dinging the final Honda to be floated of the 18th green.
But he found new life when Cole, seeking his first PGA Tour career win, sent a chip past the hole and into the opposite side fringe up against the rough.
Cole got his par, forcing a playoff after Kirk’s bogey.
Cole regained the advantage off the tee on the first playoff hole when Kirk’s drive landed in the rough and took an unfortunate bounce behind a palm tree. He punched out to 108 yards.
Cole’s adrenaline on playoff hole hurts his shot
Cole, meanwhile, was staring at a second shot 242 yards from the flag when his adrenaline got the best of him. He sent the ball past the stick and into a bunker.
Kirk’s approach shot bounced a few feet past the hole and it spun back to 16 inches from the cup. Needing to get up and down out of the bunker, Cole’s shot settled 11-feet from the hole.
His putt lipped out.
“I just fought really, really hard today,” Kirk said. “I didn’t play my absolute best, but I never gave up.”
Kirk was pleased to hear TV analyst Paul Azinger say he played like an “emotionless robot.”
“I loved that,” he said. “I absolutely loved it. I said today, I’m going to be an emotionless robot and I’m going to go stick to my guns and play aggressive and try to do the best I can.”
Tyler Duncan was solo third at 12 under. Monday qualifier Ryan Gerard was solo fourth at 10 under, earning a spot in the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open next week. The Arnold Palmer Invitational, a designated event, is also next week in Orlando.
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Is Tiger Woods done playing this season?
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Where and when will Tiger Woods play next?
The only one who knows for sure is Tiger Woods and he’s holding his cards as close to the vest as ever.
After shooting 1-under 283 and finishing T-45 at the Genesis Invitational on Sunday, he basically repeated the same thing he’s said for the better part of a year and the same message he rolled out pre-tournament: he’s likely only going to be able to play the majors and sprinkle in a few select tournaments here and there.
“Here’s the deal: Like I told you guys last year, I’m not going to play any more than probably the majors and maybe a couple more. That’s it, that’s all my body will allow me to do,” Woods said. “My back the way it is, all the surgeries I had on my back, my leg the way it is, I just can’t. That’s just going to be my future. So my intent last year was to play in all four majors, I got three of the four. Hopefully this year I can get all four and maybe sprinkle in a few here and there. But that’s it for the rest of my career. I know that and I understand that. That’s just my reality.“
There was a telling exchange between CBS interviewer Amanda Renner and Tiger before they went live on the air. She suggested that if Tiger played well at the majors, he would qualify for the FedEx Cup in August. Tiger simply chuckled as if to say fat chance.
Woods is an eight-time winner at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, which has been raised to an elevated event with a $20 million and is being staged in two weeks, but that would seem to be a quick turnaround for Woods. He walked 72 holes and played 16 holes in the Wednesday pro-am and by the end of each day his limp was noticeable and seemed to be more pronounced by the day.
“It’s progress, headed in the right direction,” he said. “It certainly was a little bit more difficult than I probably let on. My team has been fantastic in getting my body recovered day to day and getting me ready to play each and every day.”
If Woods shows up to a Florida event, the best chance is the Players Championship, the Tour’s flagship event, where TPC Sawgrass is flat. It certainly would make Commissioner Jay Monahan happy to have his biggest draw in the field. Woods is a two-time winner of the event and it wouldn’t hurt to get some additional reps in before the Masters. He’d have three full weeks to recover and prep for the toughest walk of the year at Augusta National.
“That’s the hard part that I can’t simulate at home. Even if I played four days at home, it’s not the same as adrenaline, it’s not the same as the system being ramped up like that, the intensity, just the focus that it takes to play at this level,” he explained. “No matter how much — I’m very good at simulating that at home, but it’s just not the same as being out here and doing it.”
When Woods made his comeback from back surgery in 2018, he showed up at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, and nearly won the tournament. But it would seem odd for him to pass on the Players in favor of playing Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course, and it’s doubtful Woods is considering playing two weeks in a row.
There were many encouraging signs from Woods at Riviera and as long as he can make a quick recovery, there’s every reason to believe that he will chase his sixth Green Jackets and 16th career major at Augusta National. But beyond that, Woods said, “The body says no even though the mind says yes.”
Last year, Woods surprised many when he made his first start after his car accident in February 2021. His right ankle, leg and back continue to limit how much he can play. But having Tiger in the field adds an extra layer of intrigue. Here’s hoping Woods surprises even himself and the body is willing and able to make one more start before the Masters.
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