Kirk, Trying to End Victory Drought, Leads Cole by Two in 51st Honda Classic

Chris Kirk, who claimed the last of his four PGA Tour victories in the 2015 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, seems to be ready to win again.

The 37-year-old Kirk birdied the last two holes to shoot four-under par 66 and take a two-stroke lead over rookie Eric Cole of Palm Springs heading to the final round of the 51st Honda Classic on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“It’s been so long since I’ve won (on the PGA Tour),” said Kirk, who did capture the 2020 King & Bear Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour. “I’m going to be plenty nervous tomorrow, just as nervous as those guys are probably. I made a couple mistakes on the back nine today, but then it was great to finish with those two birdies and I hope to take that into tomorrow.

“You want to go out there and try to make a bunch of birdies and get into the lead, but at the same time, if you make a bunch of pars on this golf course, that’s good. This place is tough. I made a couple really good driver swings kind of toward the end of my round today, especially on 18. I feel like that’s going to be an important thing for me tomorrow, is to go out and drive it well.”

Kirk, who shot 62 in round two, was rolling along without a bogey for 48 holes when he stumbled on the 13th and 16th holes, but he rallied with the last two of his six birdies for the day to record a 54-hole score of 13-under 197 after 54 holes.

Cole, who has won an incredible 54 times on the Minor League Golf Tour, made his lone bogey of the round at No. 14 and birdied two of the last three holes in a second straight 66 after opening with a 67.

“It’s a bigger stage and stuff, but the golf ball doesn’t know the difference, and I’m just going to try to keep kind of executing the way I have the first three days, and I think it should take care of itself,” said Cole, who tied for 15th recently in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am after opening with a 65.

“It’s awesome. I’ve never played this event before even though I tried to qualify a bunch of times  I’m enjoying every minute of it. I mean, it’s the same but it is different. “It’s a bigger stage than I’ve known before, and stuff, but the golf ball doesn’t know the difference, and I’m just going to try to keep kind of executing the way I have the first three days, and I think it should take care of itself.”

Second-round leader Justin Suh of San Jose and USC didn’t make a birdie, but holed out from 153 yards for an eagle on the 12th hole in his 70 and is three shots behind in solo third, while 2019 Open champion Shane Lowry of Ireland made his seventh birdie on the last hole to cap a 65 and is one more behind in a tie for fourth with Ben Taylor of England, who had two late birdies in a 69.

Byeong Hun An of South Korea birdied the last two holes to card a 67 and is five down in a tie for sixth with Tyler Duncan, who had four birdies in a 68, while defending champion Sepp Straka of Austria birdied the first four holes en route to a 66 and is six strokes behind in a tie for eighth with Cameron Percy of Australia, whose birdie on the last hole gave him another 66, Brice Garnett and Ben Martin, who both finished the round with 70s, and rookie Ryan Gerard, a Monday qualifier, who wound up at 71.

Two-time major champion Zach Johnson is tied for 20th after a 71, while 2020 Honda Classic champion Sungjae Im of South Korea shot 70 and is tied for 39th, and Padraig Harrington of Ireland, a three-time major winner who won this event in 2005 and 2015, had a 69 and is tied for 50th.

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