Chris Kirk hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2015. This long-standing dry spell will have a chance to end Sunday at PGA National as Kirk heads into the final round of the 2023 Honda Classic with a two-stroke lead at 13 under. Despite his inability to enter the winner’s circle in nearly a decade, the 37-year-old is no stranger to final-round nerves on the PGA Tour.
Most recently, Kirk began the weekend at the 2023 Sony Open in command of the solo lead before losing it entirely when the first shot of his third round wounded up out of bounds. Playing himself into the penultimate group on Sunday, Kirk finished T3 at Waialae Country Club before garnering another podium finish the following week at The American Express.
He will look to rectify the mistakes of tournaments past in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, as his closet pursuers are PGA Tour rookies Eric Cole at 11 under and Justin Suh at 10 under.
Those are not the only players Kirk will have to be weary of as Shane Lowry lurks at 9 under. Highlighted by four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 9-13, Lowry’s third round 5-under 65 catapulted him back into contention. He will look to exact revenge from a year ago when he relinquished the lead to Sepp Straka over the final few holes. Straka remains in the mix at 7 under as he aims to successfully defend his maiden PGA Tour title.
1. Chris Kirk (-13)
Kirk was there at the end of the 2022 Honda Classic, albeit as a fan. Sticking around to watch Straka put the finishing touches on his first PGA Tour triumph, Kirk will be the one hoping to raise the trophy this time around. While eight years have passed since his last win on the PGA Tour, Kirk is only three years removed from winning on the Korn Ferry Tour and will attempt to make it back-to-back winning Georgia Bulldogs at the Honda Classic.
“We stay together all the time. He’s usually the guy that gets us a house,” Straka said. “So yeah, I’ve gotten to know Chris very well over the last few years, one of my best friends, and yeah, we spend a lot of time, and he’s been playing great golf for a couple years now. It’s not surprising to me, especially around this course…His iron play is spectacular. He’s one of the best iron players that I’ve played with. Bunker play, it’s a small thing, but he’s probably the best bunker player I’ve ever played with. Yeah, when that putter gets hot, too, he can keep making them. There’s definitely not a lot of fear in him.”
2. Eric Cole (-11)
3. Justin Suh (-10)
T4. Shane Lowry, Ben Taylor (-9)
T6. Byeong Hun An, Tyler Duncan (-8)
T8. Ben Martin, Sepp Straka, Cameron Percy, Brice Garnett, Ryan Gerard (-7)
It was a roller-coaster final round to the 2022 Honda Classic and Lowry was a player to experience both the ups-and-downs. A member of the final group, Lowry erased the five-stroke overnight lead held by Daniel Berger in as many holes and looked destined to claim his first title on U.S. soil since 2015.
Straka would ultimately make a run of his own, but Lowry still had a chance to win when he stepped on the tee at the 72nd hole. Sprinting to the tee box from the 17th green due to an impending downpour, the Irishman was out of sync on his closing hole and was unable to card a birdie to force a playoff.
“I just hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow,” Lowry said. “No, look, this golf course, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You just need to stick in as long as you can. There’s not many holes where you can stand up, and you don’t want to be complacent but take it easy on them. Every hole is a bit of a disaster hole, or a lot of holes are a bit of disaster holes. You just need to be very cautious and aggressive to your targets and just go out there and give it your best, and if that’s good enough at the end of the day, you hope to be standing here with the trophy.”
Bhatia goes shirtless not once but twice
Everyone has that one friend that likes to take his shirt off entirely too much. Saturday at PGA National, that was Akshay Bhatia. After hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation in Round 2, the 21-year-old struggled to find his rhythm with his ball striking and was left needing to play from hazards not once, but twice.
The first instance came on the par-4 6th when his tee shot found the mud lining the water hazard left of the fairway. Able to make par, Bhatia wasn’t as lucky nine holes later when his ball found a similar lie. He would need to two swings to get his ball back into play on the par-3 15th. A double bogey ensued and with it Bhatia became yet another victim of the Bear Trap — although slightly muddier.
“I’ve done it before but not twice in a round,” Bhatia said. “Yeah, I feel nasty, to say the least. Thankfully, Presleigh, my girlfriend, brought me a change of clothes, but obviously it didn’t matter because I changed — I got mud on my new pants. Yeah, it was an interesting one, to say the least.”
2023 Honda Classic updated odds and picks
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
- Chris Kirk: 20/21
- Eric Cole: 9/2
- Shane Lowry: 13/2
- Justin Suh: 7-1
- Ben Taylor: 16-1
- Byeong Hun An: 22-1
- Tyler Duncan: 40-1
- Sepp Straka: 60-1
- Ben Martin: 80-1
Kirk feels like a solid deal as he leads the field in strokes gained tee to green on the week. It is actually his performance on the greens that strikes even more confidence as he looks extremely comfortable with the speed of the putting surfaces through three rounds. If not Kirk, Taylor at 16-1 could be worth a look. The 30-year-old played in the final groups at the Houston Open and Sony Open and acquitted himself nicely on both occasions.