Chris Kirk outduels Eric Cole in a playoff to win 2023 Honda Classic
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The emotions came streaming out for Chris Kirk as the final putt in the final Honda Classic settled into the bottom of the cup.
Kirk, four years removed from taking a leave of absence from the PGA Tour to get his life back on track, was a winner again, outlasting Eric Cole on the first playoff hole Sunday at PGA National.
“I just have so much to thankful for,” Kirk said. “I’m so grateful for my sobriety. 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.”
Kirk gave up the lead on 18 after his second shot hit a stone wall and splashed down just feet from the floating Honda Pilot Trailsport (both players finished 14 under). He then won it on 18, the first playoff hole, with a birdie.
The win was Kirk’s fifth on the PGA Tour, first since 2015 at Colonial. The 37-year-old takes home $1.512 million and will go down as the last winner of the Honda Classic. The tournament is seeking a new title sponsor with American Honda ending its sponsorship after 42 years.
Kirk took an indefinite leave from the sport in May 2019 to deal with alcohol abuse and depression. His life was in a downward spiral and he attempted to get it back on track on his own.
It was not working.
He returned after a seven-month break and struggled with his golf. But that was not important.
Kirk’s life was back in order.
After returning, he played in 11 events in the 2019-20 season and missed five cuts. He had one top 25 finish.
But his game slowly has been coming back to form since. From the start of the 2020-21 season to this week, he had 10 top-10 finishes, including a runnerup in the 2021 Sony Open in Hawaii.
Kirk’s last three starts entering Honda: third at the Sony Open in Hawaii, tied for third at the American Express, missed cut at the WM Phoenix Open.
“Coming down the stretch I felt good,” he said before admitting he made a “bad swing at the wrong time,” on the 72nd hole.
Talking about his past problems
Kirk has never backed away from talking about the darkest days of his life. He has said the reason never was to send a message to others. But when a professional athlete uses his platform to open up about something so personal, that can be powerful and impactful.
“I think more than the time, just how much my life has changed in that time, getting close to four years of sobriety, and that is the reason why I’m able to play,” he said. “It’s the reason why I have such a great relationship with my family. Everything that I have is because of that. I have to remember that first and foremost, and it’ll sink in eventually, but it certainly hasn’t right now.”
So when Kirk is on an emotional rollercoaster coming down the stretch of a PGA Tour event, he’s faces more pressure.
Kirk entered the final hole of regulation in control. He ceded that control when the ball narrowly missed dinging the final Honda to be floated of the 18th green.
But he found new life when Cole, seeking his first PGA Tour career win, sent a chip past the hole and into the opposite side fringe up against the rough.
Cole got his par, forcing a playoff after Kirk’s bogey.
Cole regained the advantage off the tee on the first playoff hole when Kirk’s drive landed in the rough and took an unfortunate bounce behind a palm tree. He punched out to 108 yards.
Cole’s adrenaline on playoff hole hurts his shot
Cole, meanwhile, was staring at a second shot 242 yards from the flag when his adrenaline got the best of him. He sent the ball past the stick and into a bunker.
Kirk’s approach shot bounced a few feet past the hole and it spun back to 16 inches from the cup. Needing to get up and down out of the bunker, Cole’s shot settled 11-feet from the hole.
His putt lipped out.
“I just fought really, really hard today,” Kirk said. “I didn’t play my absolute best, but I never gave up.”
Kirk was pleased to hear TV analyst Paul Azinger say he played like an “emotionless robot.”
“I loved that,” he said. “I absolutely loved it. I said today, I’m going to be an emotionless robot and I’m going to go stick to my guns and play aggressive and try to do the best I can.”
Tyler Duncan was solo third at 12 under. Monday qualifier Ryan Gerard was solo fourth at 10 under, earning a spot in the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open next week. The Arnold Palmer Invitational, a designated event, is also next week in Orlando.