Chris Kirk watched in despair as his ball caromed off the rocks and splashed into the water near the 18th green at PGA National. He held his club over his shoulders and hung his head. His hopes for a fifth PGA Tour title appeared sunk, along with his pearly Titleist ProV1X.
But, as the old adage goes, winning is hard. Journeyman Eric Cole was unable to capitalize on Kirk’s miscue in regulation, parring the 18th from the middle of the fairway at the par-5, which was only enough to force a playoff.
On the extra hole, Kirk would not make the same mistake twice.
This time, a pushed drive left him behind a tree and forced a layup to wedge distance into the finisher. With a short club in his hand, the daunting water was not a factor as Kirk spun a wedge inside a foot to card a birdie. Moments later, Cole’s birdie bid caught the left edge of the cup and stayed above ground, securing Kirk his first Tour win since 2015.
“I just have so much to be thankful for,” Kirk said shortly after the win. “I was obviously very very nervous today having not won in so long … Thank god it worked out.”
This Honda Classic win looked anything but assured for much of the day on a difficult PGA National layout. Kirk begun the day with a two-shot lead over his playing partner Cole, but the journeyman was able to pull even — and even take the lead — multiple times throughout the day.
Cole, a 56-time winner on the Minor League Golf circuit, had never registered a top 10 on Tour coming into Sunday. In fact, his first top 15 came earlier this month at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. But despite being in unfamiliar territory, the rookie never flinched as he went blow for blow with Kirk.
“I felt like I hung pretty tough, and I was really proud of that,” Cole said. “I played as hard as I could. I’m disappointed in the result, but it is what it is.”
Cole rode a hot putter on Sunday en route to a closing 67, missing just once inside 15 feet. However, that one miss came when it mattered most as he was unable to convert his 10-footer for birdie on the playoff hole.
“It was a good putt,” he said. “I hit a really good putt and just kind of caught that top edge. I must have hit it just barely too hard to take the break.”
The win is Kirk’s first win since the 2015 Crowne Plaza Invitational, and his first on Tour since taking a leave of absence from professional golf in 2019 to deal with alcoholism and depression issues.
“I’m so grateful for my sobriety,” Kirk said. “I’m so grateful for my family. I’m so grateful for everyone that’s supported me throughout the past three or four years especially. Thank you so much.”