Kirk captures second title, Masters invite at Sea Island

By Will GrayNovember 10, 2013, 11:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk had to leave Sea Island to tame the Seaside Course.

Six weeks after moving from the coastal community to the Atlanta suburbs, Kirk survived a tumultuous back nine Sunday to capture his second career PGA Tour victory at the McGladrey Classic.

“Obviously the biggest win of my career,” said Kirk, who finished a shot clear of Briny Baird and Tim Clark after a 4-under 66. “To come here to Sea Island, which is a place that I love and cherish so much ... it’s just an unbelievable thing.”

Beginning the final round tied for the lead with Baird, Kirk opened with seven consecutive pars before a birdie at the par-5 seventh hole. That would spark a run of four birdies across six holes, equipping the former Georgia standout with a two-shot advantage as he stood on the 14th tee.

From there, things got interesting.

Kirk’s lead was cut in half when Baird birdied No. 13, and erased entirely after Kirk found a hazard left of the 14th fairway with his tee shot. Another birdie from Baird turned what was once a two-shot lead into a one-shot deficit in the span of two holes.

“It was a bizarre, bizarre day for me,” said Kirk, 28. “I was hitting a lot of really good, quality shots, hitting it right where I was looking, and then all of a sudden kind of had a little bit of a bad tee shot at 14.”

Both players left the par-5 15th with the same score, but with momentum shifting back to Kirk.

After Baird reached the green in two, leaving himself 42 feet for eagle, Kirk's hybrid approach from 243 yards found the greenside hazard.

“Kind of got in between clubs a little bit,” he said.  “Trying to take a little off of it in that situation is always a little bit dicey.”

Staring at a potential three-shot deficit with three holes to go, Kirk instead rallied for par, getting up and down from 45 yards in front of the green. Baird then three-putted for par, leaving Kirk a shot off the pace.

“I honestly thought that ball was just going to keep turning and just slam the back of the hole and go in,” Baird said of his eagle attempt. “I didn’t hit a real good putt coming back.”

Kirk drew even with a birdie on the par-3 17th. With the potential of a playoff looming, the tournament was instead decided in a fairway bunker on the 18th.

Both Kirk and Baird hit wayward tee shots on the home hole, though Baird drew a difficult lie in the sand, while Kirk’s ball landed safely in the left rough.

“I didn’t feel good with my swing, wasn’t comfortable,” said Baird, 41. “You mix that with nerves, and it’s a recipe for disaster.”

With Kirk likely to make par, Baird attempted to reach the green with a 4-iron from more than 200 yards despite an awkwardt stance. The ball traveled only 91 yards, though, tumbling into the water left of the green to essentially seal the tournament for Kirk.

“I didn’t have obviously a really good lie, but it was a doable shot. My foot just slipped,” said Baird, who got up and down from 130 yards to salvage bogey and a share of second place. “It’s disappointing. I fought really, really hard. I really did.”

Now a six-time runner-up on the PGA Tour, Baird remains in search of his first victory after 365 career starts.

“It’s amazing what the difference could have been if I’d have just made a bogey earlier in the day,” Baird said. “If I miss (a birdie) putt and make par on 18 and lose by a shot, it sure would sting less.”

In the end, it was Kirk who emerged victorious on a course he estimates he has played nearly 300 times – though prior to this week, he hadn’t had much success.

“I don’t exactly have an incredible track record on this golf course,” said Kirk, who had cracked the top 60 just once in three prior McGladrey starts.

The key to his turnaround this week was accuracy off the tee.

“This is a golf course that you really need to play from the fairway,” Kirk said. “Thankfully I drove the ball well this week and the rest of my game was really good.”

A winner in 2011 as a rookie at the Sanderson Farms Championship, Kirk now has two PGA Tour victories. Unlike his win in Mississippi, though, Sunday’s triumph comes with a spot in the Masters next spring.

Having never played in the season’s first major, Kirk admitted to thinking about Augusta National well before the final putt was holed.

“Obviously, winning the Masters would be the greatest thing that I could ever do in my golfing career,” said Kirk, who played Augusta National once a year while at the University of Georgia from 2003-2007. “You can’t win if you’re not playing.”

Though he’s now relocated with his family to the Atlanta area in anticipation of the birth of his second child, Kirk maintains a house near Sea Island and, having lived here for several years, has built a relationship with tournament host Davis Love III.

“Davis was kind of the guy when I was 12 and 13, really starting to play golf. He was my favorite player that I always looked up to,” Kirk said. “He’s turned from being my idol to sort of a mentor and a good friend.”

Following the win, Kirk reminisced about the first time he met Love during a tournament following his sophomore year of high school.

“My parents have a picture of Davis and I on their little mantel from that tournament,” he added. “I had braces and kind of long sideburns. It’s a pretty funny picture now.”

With the McGladrey trophy now under his arm and his 2014 schedule set to include a stop in Augusta, Kirk speculated that his parents may adjust their mantel to make room for a picture with Love following Sunday’s win.

“I would guess so, yeah,” said Kirk. “Right next to the other one.”

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.