Chris Kirk’s third-round 5-under 65 Saturday at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu opens a one-shot lead at the Sony Open.
But this tournament is far from over as 16 other players enter Sunday’s final round within four shots of the lead. That group includes Harris English and rookie Will Wilcox, who are tied for second, and some former Sony Open winners: Jerry Kelly (2002), Zach Johnson (2009) and Ryan Palmer (2010).
“I would say my win at the McGladrey last year was sort of a similar situation, a similar-style golf course, also, where I was tied for the lead there,” Kirk said of his second victory on the PGA Tour, at The McGladrey Classic early in the 2013-14 season. “I’m in the lead here, but it’s not like you’re going out there to protect anything when there’s 20 guys right behind you.
“You know you’ve got to go out there and go get it.”
Here are 5 Things you need to know from Saturday’s action in Honolulu:
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1. CAPTAIN KIRK: Chris Kirk has had his share of success at Waialae Country Club, and Saturday was no different.
Kirk was in control, recording six birdies and just one bogey – at the short, par-4 10th. His third-round 65 was his ninth consecutive under-par round at Waialae, dating to his second round in 2012, when he shot an even-par 70.
“Today was a nice day to get out with 5 under, for sure,” Kirk said. “I didn’t hit the ball quite as well as I have the last few days, but was able to make some really good par saves on the front and convert my birdies when I had good chances and just that continued throughout the day, thankfully.”
Kirk has a career scoring average of 67.47 and has never shot over par in 15 rounds at Waialae. His best finish at the Sony Open came last year, when he tied for fifth.
Kirk is in search of his third PGA Tour victory. He won the 2011 Sanderson Farms Championship before last fall’s McGladrey title.
In both victories, he held the 54-hole lead.
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2. MAKING THE MOST OF HIS SHOT: Will Wilcox’s view of the PGA Tour has been mostly from afar.
Wilcox, 27, of Birmingham, Ala., missed cuts in the 2010 RBC Canadian Open and the 2011 U.S. Open, his only previous PGA Tour starts. He earned his PGA Tour card for this season via the Web.com Tour, but he opted to skip the Web.com Tour Finals, thus ending 49th in priority ranking.
In taking advantage of a sponsor exemption this week at the Sony, Wilcox is one good round away from winning a PGA Tour event and earning a two-year exemption.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Wilcox, who spent three seasons on the Web.com Tour after having turned pro in 2009 out of Clayton State. “Obviously, this is what I’ve been thinking about since I was 8 years old, when I first started playing competition golf. I wish my parents could be here to see it. But it’s pretty epic.”
Despite ranking outside the top 10 this week in every statistical category aside from scoring, Wilcox shot 64 Saturday to tie John Daly for the lowest round of the day.
More importantly, he’s got a chance to win entering Sunday’s final round.
“My chipping has gotten better, so I’m not so nervous about trying to hit the greens, and it doesn’t feel like I have to,” Wilcox said. “I actually chipped one in, and I holed a bunker shot yesterday. Basically I’ve just been working really hard on my chipping and putting this week, so it feels good. When you can take pressure off your iron game, it feels better.”
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3. WHO SAID THIS WAS A YOUNG MAN’S GAME? Jerry Kelly is playing in his 16th consecutive Sony Open. And it’s possible that no one player in the field knows Waialae better than the former hockey player from Madison, Wis.
That knowledge came to good use Saturday as Kelly fired a 4-under 66 in windy conditions that made scoring difficult for many.
At age 47, Kelly knows he has to take advantage of a familiar venue such as Waialae.
“It’s scoot‑it golf, and I’m pretty good at scooting-it golf,” said Kelly, who has a victory and five additional top 10s at Sony. “My miss is usually a good clean miss, and I keep the golf ball in front of me and keep it bouncing towards the pin. I don’t play the sky‑ball, land‑it‑soft shots. It plays to my game.”
Kelly, who at 10-under 200 stands two shots behind Chris Kirk, relishes his position near the top of the leaderboard, which should come as no surprise here. In his last eight final rounds at Waialae, Kelly has a scoring average of 66.88, with low rounds of 65 in 2003 and ’04.
That low score is likely the number that he will need Sunday to give himself a chance for his fourth Tour victory.
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4. THANKS TO THE OLD GUYS: Australian Robert Allenby is regarded as one of the best ballstrikers on the PGA Tour. At the same time, though, he has the reputation as one of the Tour’s worst putters – especially among those at his home club in Jupiter, Fla.
“I’ve been playing the guys at Admiral’s Cove, all the 60-year-olds, and they make me putt out because they’re like waiting for me to miss,” Allenby said. “I keep shooting 7, 8, 9 under and stuff with them.”
It’s extra practice that seems to have paid off for Allenby. Of the top 15 players on the leaderboard at Waialae, Allenby and Hideto Tanihara are the only two players ranked inside the top 10 in strokes gained-putting. Allenby is seventh.
But Allenby also needed a little luck in shooting his third-round 65. On the par-5 ninth hole, Allenby’s drive just missed finding the driving range, left of the fairway. He was able to take relief and ended up making par.
Then at the par-5 18th, Allenby pull-hooked his drive on the dogleg-left hole and could hit his second shot only down the 10th fairway. He then hit his third over palm trees and onto the 18th green, again saving par.
“Massive,” he said of the two breaks.
Allenby, a four-time PGA Tour winner, played in 24 events on the PGA Tour in 2013 and missed the cut 18 times, recording only one top 10: a 10th-place finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Finishing 185th in the FedEx Cup last year, Allenby had to gain exemption into the 2014 season via being top 25 on the PGA Tour career money list.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: With 79 players making the cut, a second cut was made Saturday. The eight players missing out on the final round were Scott Verplank, John Huh, Miguel Angel Carballo, Toshinori Muto, Ken Duke, Kevin Foley, Eric Dugas and Joe Durant. . . . The ninth and 18th holes, the only par 5s, played easiest again Saturday. The hardest hole? The par-3 17th, with a stroke average of 3.114. . . . Since 2006, six 54-hole leaders or co-leaders have gone on to win the Sony Open, including last year’s winner, Russell Henley.