Forget who wasn’t at the Honda Classic.
Chris Kirk’s playoff victory over Eric Cole on Sunday at PGA National turned into one of the most emotionally compelling finishes of this PGA Tour season.
Much was made about the fact that only eight of the top 50 players in the world showed up at PGA National last week, but the absence of stars didn’t dilute the drama.
For Kirk, whose career was put on hold in 2019 when he publicly acknowledged his battle with alcoholism and depression, it was his first tour victory in more than seven years, capping a strong run that included a pair of third-place finishes in January.
“I just have so much to be thankful for. I’m so grateful for my sobriety, so grateful for my family, so grateful to everyone who has supported me these last three or four years,” said Kirk, who now has five PGA Tour wins.
Meanwhile, Cole was trying to win in just his 15th start on the tour, having graduated from the Korn Ferry Tour last fall. The son of professional golfers Laura Baugh and Bobby Cole, Cole saw his 10-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole spin out of the hole, allowing Kirk to tap in for the victory.
Moments earlier, Kirk had nearly tossed the tournament away on the same par-5 18th hole at the Champion course when his aggressive second shot bounced off a rocky retaining wall and into the water, leading to a closing bogey.
“I just made a bad swing at the wrong time,” Kirk said. “I was trying to stay aggressive and hit it in the middle of the green. In hindsight it would have been better to hit it somewhere over to the left there.”
Cole could have won the tournament with a birdie on the 72nd hole, but he was unable to get up and down from off the left side of the green.
“I loved it. It was a lot of fun. I can't wait to get back and do it again,” Cole said. “I didn't have my best stuff today, and I was proud of how hard I fought. Kind of stayed in it there on the back nine.”
The two had tied at 14-under 266 after Kirk, the 54-hole leader, closed with 69 and Cole shot 67.
According to The Palm Beach Post, tournament host Jack Nicklaus said the event will be in a better position next year when the PGA Tour reconfigures its schedule.
Nicklaus said that unlike this year when two $20 million designated events were played immediately in front of the Honda Classic with two more to follow, there will be just one $20 million designated event – the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am – in the three weeks preceding the longtime southeast Florida event.
The tournament is looking for a new sponsor as Honda’s decades-long agreement ended with this year’s event.
Ron Green Jr.