Chris Kirk wasn’t having the best week at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. It wasn’t that he was playing poorly, but he wasn’t scoring, and silly mistakes were leading to big numbers on his scorecard. Following rounds of 68- 76-73, Kirk found himself in last place in the 33-man field and earned an early solo tee time for the final round at Kapalua’s Plantation Course.
Well, that combination worked for Kirk, who played lights out, not to mention fast — he finished in two hours, 48 minutes. Now, for any of you who have been here, then you know it isn’t the easiest track to walk (in fact, it’s the toughest trek on Tour all year). He also found his scoring groove. Kirk fired an 11-under 62, which included birdies on 7 of the last 9 holes, to tie the course record.
Kirk, who won the Deutsche Bank Championship last season, admitted to needing to dust off some rust in the first few rounds.
“Obviously I was a little bit frustrated after the last three days, but never really felt like my game was that far off,” he said. “It just felt rusty. Like I was saying, there’s nothing wrong with my swing, and I felt good about my game. I just was trying to shed a little bit of rust from the last few months of not really getting to practice much.
He’s also been nursing a minor injury after enduring a minor sprain in his left wrist while playing with his toddler right before the Hero World Challenge.
“I was playing in the yard with my two-year-old and kind of slipped and just landed on it funny,” he said. “It wasn’t hurt bad at all. It happened on Sunday right before I went down to the Hero, so if I had just rested for probably 10 days, it would have been fine, but I went straight down and played that tournament and aggravated it a little bit more. But it was just a mild sprain. No big deal.”
However, it did impede with Kirk’s practice schedule.
He had a solid front nine, posting four-under, but found his groove on the back nine.
“I haven’t got to practice a whole lot, but something kind of clicked for me on the back 9, hit a lot of wedges close,” said Kirk.
Besides only needing 23 putts, Kirk credited his strong driving to his success in Monday’s final round.
“I drove it way better today,” said Kirk. “I mean, I drove it really right where I was looking all day, which was nice. Kind of remembered a little bit of something, a key of mine that had me driving the ball so well around the Masters and U.S. Open last year. It was a thought of just really trying to stay in my posture as long as I can and that helps the club really just track down the line going through and makes the ball fly really straight.”
He also changed putters and grips following the second round. He had been practicing with the claw grip the last few months, but it wasn’t something he had put into play until Saturday when he felt he needed a change.
“Really what it does for me is that I have a tendency, especially with the putter I was using before, that heel shaft putter (Z7), I’ll get a little bit lazy,” said Kirk. “I never have great posture in my putting, but that’s the way it’s always been.
“But if my hands get a little bit too low at address, that’s when I start putting inconsistently. So when I hold that instead of my right hand being there, when I hold it more of the pencil grip, it gets the putter a little bit higher in my left hand and gets my left hand where it needs to be for the putter to track a little bit better.”
As for the putter, he switched from a Callaway Z7 to a Z9.
“I really liked that no. 7 that I have that has sort of the fangs coming off the back,” said Kirk. “It’s just a little bit easier to line up. It’s not face balance, but it’s closer to face balance than my No. 9 heel shaft was. So with my hands a little bit higher than that in the claw grip, I tend to track it a little bit more straight back, straight through than I do with the No. 9, to I don’t really that as much toe hang and as much swing as that other putter has.”
Now, here’s a semi-random fun fact. Kirk’s caddie Bill Harke wears a pedometer to track the miles he walks. In the third round, he recorded 9.1 miles compared to 7.7 miles in the final round. I guess that’s the difference when you post a score 11 shots better than the previous day.
“Chris said it’s because I didn’t have to walk around in the weeds today looking for his ball,” said Harke, smiling.
Kirk’s record-tying round will be a nice boost in confidence and momentum for him heading into this week’s Sony Open, where he’s enjoyed success in recent years. He finished runner-up in 2014 and T5 in 2013.
“Obviously I feel a lot better than I would have after yesterday.”