Golf notebook: Chris Kirk shows he’s still a clutch player

Chris Kirk smiles as he fist bumps the caddie of Stewart Cink on the 18th green during the final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii at the Waialae Country Club on January 17, 2021 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Chris Kirk smiles as he fist bumps the caddie of Stewart Cink on the 18th green during the final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii at the Waialae Country Club on January 17, 2021 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Chris Kirk has been known as a clutch player since his days at the University of Georgia. He solidified that reputation last week when he tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii, under some stressful conditions.

Kirk, a Woodstock native and current Athens resident, needed to earn 148.934 FedEx Cup points – a top-three finish -- to remain in the major medical exemption category for the rest of the season. The T2 finish produced 235 points, allowing Kirk to retain his exemption for the rest of the season. It also boosted him to 36th on the FedEx Cup points list.

“I never felt like it was a do-or-die type of situation,” Kirk said. “But it totally changes everything, being able to pick my schedule like I’m used to over the last number of years. It’s huge. To go into the week and say I’ve got to finish top three to keep going and do it is, you know, silly.”

Kirk shot four rounds of 65 and came up one shot short of Kevin Na, who birdied the final hole to win. Kirk fought back from two early bogeys in the final round, but recovered and used a streak of three consecutive birdies to get in the mix. His biggest heartbreak came at the par-3 17th, when his birdie putt came to rest hanging on the edge of the cup.

Kirk continues to come back from his courageous fight against alcoholism. He won the Korn Ferry Tour’s King and Bear Classic last season, but this was his best finish on the PGA Tour since he tied for sixth at the 2018 St. Jude Classic. He’s a four-time winner, the last coming at the 2015 Colonial.

“Certainly knew that I was capable of doing it,” Kirk said. “But when I came back, I came back with absolutely no expectations. I knew I wanted to play golf again, and I knew I wanted to compete. As long as I stuck with that and tried to make sure that I was enjoying what I was doing, that was all that mattered to me.”

Kirk is in the field for this week’s American Express in La Quinta, Calif., where Andrew Landry is the defending champion.

More PGA Tour news

Augusta’s Charles Howell is 20-for-20 in making the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Howell tied for 19th and shot four rounds in the 60s. Of his 76 rounds at Waialae, 62 have been in the 60s and 68 have been par or better. … Atlanta-born D.J. Trahan tested positive for COVID-19 and had to withdraw from this week’s American Express event.

Young Jackets finish seventh in opener

Georgia Tech, fielding its most inexperienced team in years, finished seventh at the all-ACC Camp Creek Seminole Invitational in Watersound, Fla. The Yellow Jackets came in at 7 over, far behind winning Florida State at 22 under.

Tech lost three huge pieces to graduation: 2020 U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci, 2019 U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree and 2020 Georgia Amateur champion Luke Schniederjans. Senior Noah Norton, a four-year starter, was unable to play in the opener because of back spasms.

Tech’s low man was Will Dickson, who tied for 15th at 1-over 215. Redshirt freshman Luka Karaulic shot three rounds of 71 and tied for 25th.

Miscellaneous

The GSGA’s Adaptive Golf program needs used clubs, bags and accessories for its “Sets for Vets” initiative. The donations will be used for veterans in recovery who are new to the game. Contact David Windsor at dwindsor@gsga.org. … Carnoustie Sportswear USA has been purchased by Bob Friedman and will be headquartered in Norcross. … The Korn Ferry Tour’s Savannah Golf Championship is now the Club Car Championship at The Landings Club after the company signed on as title sponsor. The tournament is March 22-28 at the Deer Creek Course.

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