Chris Kirk’s last win on the PGA Tour was nearly eight years ago. He’s put himself in a position to change that at the Honda Classic.
Kirk battled his way to a 4-under-par round of 66 on Saturday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., putting him at 13-under 197 for the week and giving him a two-shot lead over Eric Cole (66) through three rounds at PGA National.
His last win on tour was at Colonial in 2015 — 180 tournaments ago. He’s a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, played in the Presidents Cup in 2015, and has been waiting to hoist a trophy again since.
Kirk made a wild birdie on the last hole, after his second shot on the par-5 18th wound up next to the grandstand and underneath someone’s bag that was left against structure. He got a drop, chipped on from there, and made the putt to restore a two-shot lead.
And now he has a chance to be a winner again — with most of the players nearest to him on the leaderboard looking for their first tour wins.
“It’s been so long since I’ve won,” Kirk said. “I’m going to be plenty nervous, just as nervous as those guys are probably.”
Cole stayed in the mix with his second consecutive round of 66.
“It’s awesome,” Cole said. “I’ve never played this event before. Tried to qualify a bunch of times . . . I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Justin Suh holed out from the fairway for an eagle on the par-4 12th, and is alone in third at 10 under. He shot even-par 70. on Saturday.
Shane Lowry (65) was 9 under, and right in the mix after having a chance to win the Honda last year until the 72nd hole. He’s tied with Ben Taylor (69).
“If I can just hang around all day, hopefully I can give myself a chance coming down the stretch,” Lowry said. “I think I did what I needed to do today.”
Among those lurking: defending champion Sepp Straka, who followed opening rounds of 69 and 68 with a 66 Saturday. He’s 7 under for the week, six shots back. It was Straka’s sixth consecutive round in the 60s at PGA National.
“It’s a tough test, but if you’re hitting it good, you can score,” Straka said.
Akshay Bhatia needed a new outfit after playing a ball from the water. He went shirtless for the shot – one of two shirtless escapades during his round — getting covered in mud, and his girlfriend brought him a change of clothes.
“It was really gross. Really, really gross,” Bhatia said.
LIV — Talor Gooch made a 4-foot birdie putt on his final hole to tie fromer Oklahoma State teammate Peter Uihlein for the lead in the LIV Golf opener in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Uihlein was in the lead for most of the second round until a bogey-birdie-bogey finish led to a 5-under 66. Gooch played bogey free, ending his round with an approach to short range on the par-4 first hole.
The former OSU teammates — Uihlein was a junior having won the US Amateur at Chambers Bay when Gooch was a freshman — were at 9-under 133, one shot ahead of Charles Howell III, who also played for the Cowboys more than a decade earlier. Howell opened with three straight birdies and closed with a birdie for a 66.
Paul Casey was in the mix until three bogeys over his last four holes gave him a 71 and left him three shots behind, along with Branden Grace (68). The third and final round is Sunday.
Uihlein finished at No. 3 on the points list in LIV’s inaugural season, and he was recruited to replace Gooch as part of the 4 Aces team captained by Dustin Johnson. He closed out the front nine with five birdies in a six-hole stretch before settling into a series of pars until his wild finish.
“The back nine was just tough. The greens got a little crusty,” Uihlein said. “I kept the ball in play, which is all you can really do around here.”
Mayakoba held a PGA Tour event from 2007 until last November. Howell played that tournament 13 times with three top-10 finishes, his best a tie for fourth in 2018.
Dustin Johnson had to settle for a 71, taking a double bogey late in his round, and found himself six shots out of the lead.
Phil Mickelson made only one birdie in his round of 75 and was 14 shots behind after two rounds.
LPGA — Thai rookie Natthakritta Vongtaveelap shot a bogey-free 64 to grab a four-stroke lead over fellow countrywoman Atthaya Thitikul after round three of the $1.7 million Honda LPGA Thailand in Pattaya.
The 20-year-old Vongtaveelap began with an eagle and went on to notch six birdies, including three in a row from the 16th, to finish at 20-under 196 in front of thousands of jubilant home fans at Siam Country Club.
Vongtaveelap will try to become the first player to win on her LPGA Tour debut since Japanese Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 Women’s British Open.
“This is a bit beyond my expectations but it’s not impossible,” Vongtaveelap said. “A bigger crowd is expected to turn up [Sunday] and I will try to take that as an inspiration to do my best.”
Thitikul, her longtime friend and two-time LPGA winner, also carded a 64. The world No.4 kicked off her round with three straight birdies and produced five more before stumbling with a bogey on the 16th hole. But she bounced back with a closing birdie.
Celine Boutier, the French national who has Thai parents. shot a 67 to take third place on 201.
American Lilia Vu, 2014 winner Anna Nordqvist of Sweden, and compatriot Maja Stark were six shots off the lead.
European — Yannik Paul’s lead at the Hero Indian Open was trimmed from five shots to one after the third round in New Delhi.
Paul, who shot a 1-under 71 to move to 11 under overall, is one ahead of fellow German Marcel Siem.
Siem birdied his last two holes for a 67 that put him in the final group on Sunday as he goes in search of his fifth European title — and first since 2014.
“I get the shivers already, just thinking about it,” said Siem, who is ranked No. 337. “Yannik is a very good player, very steady, he’s a tough guy to beat. I’m not thinking about it. Last three holes down the stretch, that’s where it matters.
“I’m just trying to do what I do, but it would mean a lot to me, trust me. It would be a life-changer.”
Paul’s only previous title came at the Mallorca Open last year.
Dutch golfer Joost Luiten, who shot a 68, was three strokes off the lead on 8 under.
Jorge Campillo (67), Veer Ahlawat (68), and Thorbjorn Olesen (66) were tied for fourth place, six shots behind Paul.