Chris Kirk didn’t make things easy on himself.
In the final start of his major medical extension, in the final round, on the final hole, Kirk stepped on the tee box at Waialae Country Club’s short par-5 finisher likely needing birdie to keep his PGA Tour card. But after finding the left rough off the tee and then short-siding himself in the right rough with his second shot, Kirk faced a difficult, 25-yard shot for his third.
The result: A deft pitch to 1 feet, 5 inches, which ended the stress and made the birdie putt much easier. Kirk tapped it in to clinch at least a two-way tie for third, which is what he needed Sunday at the Sony Open to satisfy the requirements of his extension.
He almost earned himself a victory, too, which would’ve been his fifth on Tour and first since 2015, but instead it was Kevin Na capturing his fifth career win and leaving Kirk in a share of second with Joaquin Niemann, one shot back.
“That could’ve been a career-saving shot,” said Golf Channel analyst Mark Rolfing on the telecast.
Indeed. It’s been less than two years since Kirk stepped away from the Tour in May 2019 to address depression and alcoholism. While Kirk won in the Korn Ferry Tour’s return to competition last summer, it wasn’t until last fall’s RSM Classic that Kirk cracked the top 20 for the first time since his leave of absence.
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Sunday’s co-runner-up showing was Kirk’s first top-10 finish since the 2018 FedEx St. Jude Classic, as Kirk earned 245 FedEx Cup points, nearly 100 more than the 148 he needed this week to avoid playing off conditional status for the rest of the season, or worse.
“I’m hoping that some of the shots I hit down the stretch today will give me a bit more of that when I return to the PGA Tour, because I know my good is plenty good enough,” Kirk said after last year’s KFT win. “It’s just a matter of seeing it and feeling it, and having some of that momentum carry over.”
It took a handful of starts, but with nothing to spare, Kirk had just enough of that momentum left in the tank.
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