American Chris Kirk held his nerve and the 54-hole co-lead to win The McGladrey Classic Sunday afternoon on the Seaside Course on St. Simons Island, Ga. Co 54-hole leader Briny Baird shared second with South African Tim Clark as Scott Brown, Brian Gay and John Senden rounded out the podium T3. Kirk fired a final round 66, one of three rounds of 66 this week, to post 14-under-par 266 to hold off Baird and Clark by one shot. The three players in third finished another shot behind.
Chris Kirk had made his home on Sea Island on St. Simons Island until just a few months ago before moving to Atlanta. His final round 66 wasn’t without drama as he found the water TWICE on the back nine on Sunday and that usually doesn’t add up to anything good happening. But, when you putt like THE CAPTAIN does, trouble can be minimized. After knocking in the drink on No. 14, he rallied to get up and down from 60 feet to save bogey. The lesson was not learned his he once again went swimming on the par five No. 15 as his second shot splashed in. He found a way to hole a 19-footer to save his par there and minimize the damage. Kirk took advantage of an excellent iron shot on No. 17, a par three, as he rolled in the birdie putt to tie Baird’s lead. After Baird found the water himself on No. 18, Kirk hit an iron to 30 feet and calmly lagged his thirty-footer to just over a foot that he would eventually tap in for victory No. 2 on TOUR.
Kirk is loved by gamers because he devours par fours and makes plenty of birdies because of his excellent putting stroke and this week, those who were faithful, weren’t let down. Kirk co-lead the field with 20 birdies on the week and finished the week T11 in strokes gained-putting. His iron game was solid as well as he was T15 in GIR. As he remarked after his round, he’s seen mostly every putt on that course and he used that experience throughout the week to lead or co-lead after 36, 54 and 72 holes. He’s the first “resident” of Sea Island to win the McGladrey in its four years of existence.
After banking over $400,000 on the Web.com Tour in 2010, which included two wins, the former Walker Cupper popped a W on his first year on TOUR at the Sanderson Championship in 2011 en route to almost $1.9 million in earnings. He came back to earth with $1.1 in his sophomore season of 2012 but rallied for 11 top 25s and $1.7 million last season. He’s only 28 and has won twice. Now, he’ll get a chance to play in big events as he’ll move up from No. 93 in the OWGR plus he’s into the HTOC, the Masters, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship. Fantasy gamers who were wishy-washy about the youngster are clamoring to get on board after this performance validates the stats we all have been witnessing. That’s four wins spread over four years and my stance has always been: winning golf equals winning golf. Look for Kirk to have a very nice 2013-14.
With this victory, Kirk collects $990,000 and 500 FedExCup points.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA is now five from five in 2013-14 as American Chris Kirk joins Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore and Dustin Johnson as the winners this year.
Jimmy Walker is the only first-time winner in 2013-14. There were 12 of them last season. We have seen four young studs and Walker, another player in his prime, rack up the first five wins of the year.
Only 17 of the 38, 54-hole leaders went on to win last year in full-field, stroke play events. This season, four of the first five winners have held the outright or co-54 hole lead. Only Jimmy has come from off the pace.
Kirk tied Heath Slocum in 2010 for the highest winning score (-14) but he still posted 20 birdies on the week. The winners now have posted 19, 22, 20 and 20 in the four editions of this event.
Kirk becomes the third winner of four to claim the victory when playing the week before the event.
He also becomes the first winner that has been a part of the Sea Island Mafia.
Chris Kirk is the lowest-rated golfer, No. 93 in the OWGR, to win this season.
Tommy Gainey is the only first-time winner in four events at the Seaside Course.
Chris Kirk is the first winner in the 20s to win here.
Young Guns versus Prime Time versus Old Guys
This is the part of the column where I list the winners and their age. Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and was joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia. Chris Kirk, 28, joins Webb Simpson, 28, and Dustin Johnson, 29, as the twenty-somethings on the board as the Young Guns now have three of the five wins to start the season. The Old Guys were led this week by 41-year-old Briny Baird at T2 and 41-year-old Brian Gay at T4. Close, but no cigarette.
What I learned from the finishers in the top 10
Chris Kirk: In four events here, Kirk adds his W to his T15 in 2010, MC in 2011 and T64 last year. In 14 rounds, he has only one over par.
Tim Clark: Sadly for the South African, his low round of the day, 62 (eight-under) could only get him second place but it was his best finish on TOUR since his T7 at Crowne Plaza last May. Clark matched Kirk with 20 birdies, including three in a row to finish the tournament, and did everything but WIN the tournament. He was T2 in fairways, second in GIR and third in putts per GIR. He only made five bogeys on the week as well. Not bad for his first time in the event! Clark had finished T72, MC and T31 in his three events of 2013-14 so this was a pleasant surprise to gamers. This was also his first top 25 on TOUR since that same T7 at CPIC.
Briny Baird: The man wearing the straw hat had the co-54-hole lead and had a one-shot lead to play with four holes on Sunday. He three putted No. 15 from 42 feet for par. He knocked in the drink on No. 18 for a closing bogey. Gamers know that he’s winless in 365 starts but he’s shown signs of life this year with 65s at the Frys.com and the Shriners. This week he carded 20 birdies and had an opening round, bogey-free 63 en route to his best finish since his P2 finish in 2011 to Bryce Molder at Frys.com. Not bad for a guy who missed all of 2012 on TOUR with DOUBLE SHOULDER SURGERY. What’s your excuse for not getting out of bed? I’ll tip my non-straw hat to Baird for this performance and he collects enough cash this week to meet his Major Medical Exemption for this season. He'll be No. 1 on that exemption list.
Scott Brown: Have putter, will travel. Brown finished the week fourth in strokes gained-putting. Not bad for a guy who finished 2013 139th in that same category. He backed up his T20 finish here last year with 66-68-68-66 so to say he likes it here in Georgia would be an understatement. It looks like he’s a big fan of the wrap-around season as well as his T4 this week pairs nicely with his T3 from Frys.com. He’s almost halfway to his 2013 money totals through four events played in 2013-14. He only made 12 of 21 cuts last year but that included his win at the Puerto Rico Open. He’s definitely worth a flier in a season-long format.
Brian Gay: When you spray it off the tee (T58 accuracy) and don’t hit many greens (T43), the putter must be the club Gay trusts. It is and he did this week as he finished second in strokes gained-putting and when he did hit greens, he took advantage as he was first in putts per GIR. That led to 20 birdies and T4 this week, including an opening round 63. With 10 rounds under his belt, none of them under 70, this season, he bloomed with three of four in the 60s this week to post his best finish since his win in a playoff last year at Humana. It was his first top 25 since Waste Management of last year. It was his first finish better than T33 at Sea Island. No, no I didn’t see this coming, but when we hear words like “putting contests”, Gay should be in our notes!
John Senden: Gamers already know that the Aussie lives and dies with how many putts he holes and this week his putter was the reason he finished T4. He was fifth in strokes gained-putting and was eighth in putts per GIR. After closing 71-77 in Las Vegas, Senden carded all four rounds in the 60s this week as he posted his first top 10 since the 2012 John Deere Classic. After cashing only $665,000 and change last year, I’ll keep him in mind but will be looking for more consistent form before I start investing. That being said, Senden now has T4 and T9 in two starts at The McGladrey Classic and will move easily into the “horse-for-course” category next season.
Matt Every: His T7 is quietly his third top 10 finish in his last six starts on TOUR. Every’s talent has never been questioned but he tends to blow hot and cold, too hot and cold for gamers, and this isn’t always the soundest strategy when investing. He made 17 of 28 cuts last season but at 29, there’s no reason to think he can’t improve on those numbers moving forward in 2013-14.
Webb Simpson: His T7 backs up his victory in Las Vegas as one of the steadiest players on TOUR didn’t disappoint gamers this week too badly. He now only one round from eight over 68 to start the season so that suggests he’s right on song to start the new season. His three finishes in this event are T12, P2 and T7. AUTO-MATIC for any lists next season.
Matt Kuchar: Another Sea Island resident, Kuchar finally cracked the top 10 for the first time in three tries at his home meet. He now has all 12 rounds at par or better and he’s only fired par twice. He ground out a T7 even though he was T58 in fairways, 35th in strokes gained-putting and T25 GIR. That’s Kuchar in a nutshell; he just finds ways to compete and score. This was his first stroke-play event since The TOUR Championship.
Greg Chalmers: The man who led the TOUR in strokes gained-putting in 2013 was back to his old tricks this week as he was top of the heap in his category in finishing T10. His 64 on Sunday saved his blemish of 72 on Saturday and saw him hit his second top 15 in two events in this new season. It’s his best coupled finish since his T16-T16 in 2012 at the BMW and the CIMB. That’s too much lag time for me to get excited about but his solid start is being noted.
Robert Karlsson: His 72-79 from 2012 didn’t inspire me to take a look at him this week. Neither did the fact that he only cashed enough to finish 156th in the 2013 season. He led the field in bogeys made (two) and pars (57) so he was dialed in. Well done if you had him spotted in the top 10, or top 25, this week, as his last trip to either was T4 on his home course at Quail Hollow.
Brian Harman: Another member of the Sea Island Mafia to crack the top 10, the lefty racked up another top 10 in three starts to start 2013-14 after his T7 at Frys.com. He can get hot with the putter and that was the case this week but he’ll be kicking himself for throwing away four shots with a double bogey on Friday and Saturday. Harman was in mini-slump last year as he missed 14 of 29 weekends but he’s looked to have righted the ship early in the new season. He should be an excellent fill in season-long salary games.
Daniel Summerhays: After not breaking par and missing the cut the previous two seasons, Summerhays had four rounds in the 60s that was anchored by excellent ball-striking and timely putting. He’s seen the weekend in all four events he’s played this new season and that makes his streak seven overall dating back to last year. Summerhays has made $1.1 and $1.2 the last two seasons so I would keep an eye on him moving forward this season. He went close at JDC and the Sanderson last summer and has shown to be resilient.
Jason Kokrak: There’s no doubt that he’s one of the longest players on TOUR and that leads to many wedges in his hand. To see him crack the top 10 after finishing T58 in fairways, T43 in greens and No. 45 in strokes gained shows that he can find a way to get his ball in the hole. That is the name of the game, right? In three events this season, he’s found T12 at Frys.com and T10 this week. He MC in Las Vegas.
Kevin Stadler: He’s trending in the right direction in this new season as he was T30 in Las Vegas, T19 in Malaysia and T10 this week. He was 10-under after a birdie on No. 15 on Sunday but a double, birdie and bogey finish saw him finish out of T3 where he started the round. Stadler hits the top 10 for the second time in five events (T4 Deutsche Bank) so I’d keep an eye on him at least for another week if he’s playing!