Kirk an option for Watson's Ryder Cup squad
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
NORTON, Mass. – Chris Kirk’s phone may ring, and Tom Watson’s voice could be on the end of the line, or then again, maybe it won’t. Only Watson and his three assistant captains, who will fill out the U.S. Ryder Cup roster with three wild-card choices Tuesday evening in New York, know the answer to that.
Judging by the smile creasing his face, the majestic Deutsche Bank Championship trophy at his side and knowledge that his name had moved atop the standings midway through the FedEx Cup playoffs, Kirk didn’t seem all that concerned about it.
“I probably don't put as much importance on it as a lot of guys do, maybe,” said Kirk, 29, whose final-round, 5-under 66 was enough to edge Geoff Ogilvy, Russell Henley and Billy Horschel by two shots on an action-packed Labor Day at TPC Boston. “Keegan Bradley is a good friend of mine and I've talked to him about this a good bit. And he said, ‘Wait until you play on one, you'll feel different about it.'
“Obviously I see it as a huge honor to play on that team. And I would absolutely love to do it. But I'm not going to really base how happy I am with how I'm playing or how my year has gone on whether I make the team or not.”
Ryder Cup or not, Kirk had taken a major step the last two days at TPC Boston, where he finished at 15-under 269 to win his biggest crown yet. Playing alongside World No. 1 Rory McIlroy for two days (the two had carded matching 64s a day earlier) heightened his focus and intensity, and the laid-back Kirk pulled away with some clutch shots over his final 10 holes. When he made mistakes, he rebounded nicely, and with five birdies and no bogeys on his scorecard, nobody else could stay with him.
He took the lead at 14 under with a birdie on 13, made strong pars at 14 (from the rough) and 15 (after dumping a wedge into a short-side bunker) and pushed to 15 under when he rolled in a 13-footer at the par-3 16th.
Horschel, who’d moved to 14 under with a birdie at the par-4 15th (17 feet) was the last man with a chance, standing in the fairway at the par-5 18th needing birdie, a 6-iron in his hand for his second shot after a monstrous 318-yard drive. But he fatted the approach and it never had a chance, dying woefully in the hazard that fronts the green. Horschel, who’d played pretty solidly for 17 holes, made 6 and dropped back into a tie for second.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Horschel. “Worst swing I made all week.”
Kirk, who’d already finished in the group ahead, was talking with family members had no idea what had happened behind him. When he got to the scoring area and saw his caddie, Bill Harke, celebrating, he knew the news had to be good. It was his third PGA Tour victory, and second of 2013-14 (he also won last fall's McGladrey Classic).
Kirk – who entered the week 17th in FedEx points but had displayed little form this summer (one top 10 since May) – basically played two tournaments at TPC Boston. There was his first 35 holes, during which he struggled with his iron game and was lucky to be 1 under, and his next 37, in which he made an eagle, 12 birdies and did not make a single bogey.
If Kirk knew what flipped that switch to prosperity, he wasn’t disclosing it. He did know this: He was so frustrated walking off the golf course early Friday on Day 1 – he hit only two greens in regulation on his second nine – that he didn’t even bother to head to the practice tee to sort things out.
Said Kirk, “I just told my caddie, “This isn't any fun. This is no fun, I don't feel like going to hit balls, I'll see you tomorrow.’ ” Instead, Kirk took his 2-year-old son, Sawyer, to the tournament’s Kids’ Zone for some putt-putt golf.
“Shows you how ridiculous this game is,” Kirk added, laughing. “To come out and play three rounds 66-64-66 to win is beyond belief.”
Six players moved into the top 70 in points Monday to earn spots into this week’s BMW Championship in Denver. Moving in after starting the week outside the top-70 bubble: Morgan Hoffmann, Ben Crane, Horschel, Chesson Hadley, Carl Pettersson and Ogilvy.
Ogilvy began the week at No. 100 and moved into a tie for the lead at one point on the back nine. He advanced all the way to 24th.
"I didn't even think I was going to get here," Ogilvy said. "I'm playing good again, so that's a good thought."
As for Kirk, he now has an excellent shot at beginning the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in two weeks inside the top 5, giving him a great shot making a run at the FedEx Cup's $10 million playoff bounty.
As for that possible Ryder Cup call from Captain Watson? Well, if it arrives, great. Kirk said it would be a real honor. And if not, well, he was in good stead in the spring and had his shot to be one of the nine automatic qualifiers to make the team. He certainly doesn’t feel he’s entitled to anything more.
A Georgia alum, Kirk has plans to attend the Tennessee-Georgia football game in Athens on Saturday of Ryder Cup weekend. Of course, that may change, even if Kirk appears to be a little indifferent to the possibility.
“Winning the Deutsche Bank and going No. 1 in the FedExCup and $1.4 million (winner’s share), that's plenty for me for one day,” Kirk said.