Chris Kirk made a long-awaited and emotional return to the winner’s circle by beating Eric Cole in a playoff at the Honda Classic on Sunday at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
After Kirk bogeyed the par-5 18th hole to necessitate the playoff, he and Cole returned to play the hole again. This time, Kirk stuck his third shot to 16 inches for what proved to be the winning birdie tap.
Kirk entered the day with a two-stroke lead and shot a 1-under 69, while Cole, playing with him in the final group, caught him with a 3-under 67. At 14-under 266, the duo finished two better than third-place Tyler Duncan, who shot a final-round 66.
Kirk, 37, won for the fifth time on the PGA Tour and the first time since taking a break from the tour to treat alcoholism and depression in 2019. His most recent win was at The Colonial in 2015.
“I just have so much to be thankful for,” Kirk said on the NBC broadcast. “I’m so grateful for my sobriety. I’m so grateful for my family. I’m so grateful for everyone that supported me throughout the past three or four years, especially.”
Kirk arrived at his 72nd hole with a one-shot advantage over Cole. He took aim at the green on his second shot, but it bounced off a decorative brick on the edge of the green complex and caromed right, landing in the water.
Kirk had to take a drop, opening the door for Cole to potentially win with a birdie. But after overshooting the green on his second shot, his third shot rolled past the hole and did not stay on the green.
Cole went on to save par, and Kirk missed his par putt, leading to the playoff.
Kirk’s drive found the rough, forcing him to lay up on his second shot. Cole’s second shot landed in a bunker behind the green, and Kirk’s third wowed the crowd as it threatened to spin into the cup.
“When I missed the fairway on 18, I would have liked to have piped one down the middle, but I almost liked my chances better with a wedge into that pin than some of those shots from left or — everybody saw how difficult Eric’s bunker shot was, and he hit a great second shot,” Kirk said.
“I liked the position I was in there, and then to be able to hit that great of a wedge shot under those circumstances felt amazing.”
Cole had a longer birdie putt that could have forced a second playoff hole, and it lipped out.
“I played three really good days of good ball-striking and then today, especially on the front nine,” Cole said. “My ball-striking wasn’t where it needed to be. I felt like I hung pretty tough, and I was really proud of that. I played as hard as I could.”
Cole had a run of three birdies at Nos. 3-5 to tie Kirk at 14 under. The putt at the par-3 fifth was a triple-breaker of nearly 70 feet.
But Cole, ranked 330th in the world and seeking his first win on tour, found the water on the ensuing hole and saved bogey from 20 feet away to drop back a shot. Kirk made a 34 1/2-foot birdie putt at No. 8 for a two-shot lead.
At the par-4 13th, Kirk was leading by one but bogeyed the hole while Cole made a 7-foot birdie for a two-shot swing that gave Cole his first outright lead of the day. Cole gave it back at the par-3 15th, where he failed to get out of a greenside bunker on his second shot and wound up making bogey.
Ryan Gerard, who made only his second PGA Tour start, shot a final-round 67 to finish fourth at 10 under.
Five players tied for fifth at 9 under, including defending champion Sepp Straka of Austria, who wrapped the weekend with a 68. Joining him were Ben Martin (68), Justin Suh (71), Irishman Shane Lowry (70) and England’s Ben Taylor (70).
–Field Level Media
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