PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP)Chris Kirk waited nearly eight years to win a PGA Tour event again. Waiting one more hole on Sunday was no problem.
Kirk stuck his approach to the par-5 18th to tap-in range, and his birdie on the first hole of a playoff lifted him past Eric Cole for the victory at the Honda Classic on Sunday.
Cole had a chance, playing his third shot from the sand to just outside of 10 feet for a birdie that would have extended the playoff. But it lipped out, and Kirk nudged his ball in for his fifth career win – his first since prevailing at Colonial in 2015.
”I was obviously very, very nervous today having not won in so long,” Kirk said. ”Coming down the stretch, I felt good.”
And he’ll be the last Honda winner. The car company is ending its title sponsorship of the event after 42 years, with a new sponsor set to be in place – the PGA Tour hopes, anyway – in the coming weeks.
They finished 72 holes tied at 14-under 266, Kirk shooting 69 on Sunday, Cole shooting 67.
Kirk earned $1,512,000 for the win, and is now eligible to play the Masters again for the first time since 2016. Cole earned $915,600 for the runner-up finish, a check that more than doubles what the 34-year-old has earned in 14 previous tour starts.
”I loved it. It was a lot of fun,” Cole said. ”I can’t wait to get back and do it again. I didn’t have my best stuff today, and I was proud of how hard I fought.”
Kirk went to the par-5 18th with a one-shot lead. His tee shot found the fairway. His second shot found the water, leading to bogey. Cole made par, giving Kirk new life in the playoff.
”Bad swing at the wrong time. … Thank God it worked out,” Kirk said.
Kirk hadn’t held a trophy since 2015. That’s not to say he hasn’t done any winning in that span.
He walked away from the game in May 2019 because of alcoholism and depression. He struggled with anxiety, struggled to deal with pressure, even though he had a penchant for making it seem like no big deal on the golf course – he was a four-time winner, plus made a big putt to help the U.S. win the Presidents Cup at South Korea in 2015.
The tour gave him a major medical extension for the time he missed, meaning he had a set number of tournaments to do well enough to regain his full status. He got it back by the slimmest of margins at the Sony Open in 2021.
And now he’s a champion again.
”I just have so much to be 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 has supported throughout the past three or four years.”
Tyler Duncan, ranked No. 360 in the world coming into the week, shot 66 on Sunday and was third at 12 under. Monday qualifier Ryan Gerard, playing the weekend for the first time on the PGA Tour, shot 67 and finished fourth at 10 under.
Gerard’s career earnings on tour went from $0 to $411,600. His plans for the next few weeks might be changing based on this finish.
”I’ve got to go book some flights and hotel rooms, swipe the credit card,” said Gerard, who came into the week ranked 472nd in the world. ”We’ll see what happens.”
Defending champion Sepp Straka (68) was in a group tied for ninth at 9 under, with all four of his rounds in the 60’s. Also in that group: Shane Lowry, who had a chance to win the Honda last year and finished with an even-par 70.
”I played lovely, and I just couldn’t get it going,” Lowry said.
DIVOTS: It was the first playoff for both Kirk and Cole. … Jhonattan Vegas had the round of the day with a 64, getting to 5 under. He started birdie-birdie-eagle, made a 50-footer for double bogey on the par-3 15th after his tee shot found the water, then made a 36-footer for another eagle to cap the round. … Billy Horschel (72) battled through sinus issues and finished 2 under for the week, after having a share of the first-round lead. The Florida native still hasn’t won a tour event in Florida, now 0 for 40.
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