NORTON, Mass. – If anyone needs tickets to the Georgia-Tennessee game on Sept. 27 in Athens, Ga., Chris Kirk may have one to unload depending on how things play out on Tuesday in New York City.
The fourth-year PGA Tour player emerged from a crowded and convoluted leaderboard on Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship to claim his third title and a spot at the table when Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson huddles in the U.S. war room on Tuesday to make his final three picks for this year’s matches, which will be played the same weekend as the SEC East tilt which Kirk is currently planning to attend.
The Georgia alum had been something of a long shot to land one of Watson’s coveted picks, the byproduct of his pedestrian play of late (he hadn’t posted a top-10 finish since June) and his status as a Ryder Cup rookie.
Watson hasn’t telegraphed much over the last few weeks in the run up to Tuesday’s announcement, but the one outlier has been his perceived aversion to picking a first-timer for what promises to be unfriendly confines for the U.S. team.
On Monday, Kirk may have changed the captain’s mind thanks to a near-flawless closing loop at TPC Boston.
Although he began the day just two shots behind Russell Henley, conventional wisdom pegged Rory McIlroy, playing in the penultimate group, and Jason Day as the favorites. But as Henley slowly faded it was Kirk, along with Billy Horschel and Geoff Ogilvy, who emerged as the front-runners.
Kirk grabbed a share of the lead at the ninth hole with a 10-footer for birdie and pulled ahead of the pack with another birdie at No. 13.
“My birdie putt on 13 definitely kind of got me going, got me a little bit feeling like I could do it,” said Kirk, who closed with a 66 to finish at 15 under par.
Horschel, who was also looking to make an impression on Captain Tom as well as pad his FedEx Cup chances, matched Kirk shot-for-shot. When the two traded birdies at the 15th (Horschel) and 16th (Kirk) holes at virtually the same time, it became clear TPC Boston’s closing hole would be the swing vote.
Playing in the group ahead, Kirk’s drive found the rough along with his lay up and he was unable to convert his birdie putt at the 18th hole. Horschel watched Kirk’s par from the middle of the 18th fairway and proceeded to “lay sod” over his second shot which found a hazard.
“I just stayed in the shot a little too long,” said Horschel, who made bogey at the last and closed with a 69. “I hit it good enough today to win and it’s just a little unfortunate it ended like that.”
Ogilvy – who has been playing the role of the 2011 New York Giants, the 9-7 wildcard darlings who won that season’s Super Bowl, in these playoffs – also made a run at the title, grabbing a share of the lead with a 9-footer for birdie at the 13th hole but also came up short at the par-5 finishing hole.
Needing a birdie to keep pace with Kirk, who teed off 40 minutes before the Australian, Ogilvy hit a Winged Foot-like chip from left of the green that hit the flagstick and rolled to 5 feet. The only thing missing was Phil Mickelson airmailing drives into corporate tents and Colin Montgomerie mumbling to himself.
Well, that and the birdie putt, which Ogilvy missed – but it wouldn’t have mattered after Kirk birdied the 16th hole. Still, for Ogilvy, who began the playoffs 90th on the FedEx Cup point list and grabbed the final spot into the Deutsche Bank Championship at No. 100, his runner-up finish was a reason to be optimistic.
“Nine days ago I wasn’t playing again until Napa (Frys.com Open in October) so that’s a good result,” smiled Ogilvy, who vaulted to 24th on the points list. “You come into this event 100th, you’re probably the last guy, statistically, expected to play the BMW.”
Whether you favor the concept of playoff golf or not really doesn’t matter at this juncture, the powers have delivered on their promise to round up the top players at a time they normally wouldn’t and deliver drama, however contrived.
Consider the plight of Ben Crane, who at 78th on the FedEx Cup points list to start the week was outside the cut off for next week’s BMW Championship. He birdied the 17th hole on Monday to assure him a spot at the third playoff stop and then made a mess at the last on his way to a double bogey and final-round 72.
At first officials told Crane he would remain inside the top 70; then he was out; then he was back in when Jordan Spieth missed a 16-footer for birdie on the 18th hole. He finished 69th, five points ahead of No. 71 Robert Streb who was bounced by a combination of late birdies by McIlroy and Day and confusing math.
“I wanted to move on. I left it up to someone else which is frustrating but that’s the game we play,” said Crane, who tied for 29th place.
Similarly, Kirk’s Ryder Cup plight is now in Watson’s hands.
“I certainly don't feel entitled or feel like I'm a shoo-in to get a pick. I obviously really put myself into consideration and it's something that I would love to do,” said Kirk, who finished 14th on the Ryder Cup point list and will likely be vying for the final spot along with the likes of Webb Simpson and Bill Haas, who both finished tied for ninth at TPC Boston.
“Like I've said before, I mean the nine guys that made it are automatic picks, those are the guys on the team. The other three, if you get in, it's a bonus.”
Just to be safe, if you know anyone who needs tickets to the Georgia-Tennessee game they may be in luck.