Kirk battles, takes 2-shot lead into final round at Honda

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Charles Kirk hits from a bunker onto the sixth green during the third round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Chris Kirk’s last win on the PGA Tour was nearly eight years ago. He’s put himself in a position to change that at the Honda Classic.

Kirk battled his way to a 4-under round of 66 on Saturday, putting him at 13-under 197 for the week and giving him a two-shot lead over Eric Cole (66) through three rounds at PGA National.

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His last win on tour was at Colonial in 2015 — 180 tournaments ago. He’s a four-time winner on tour, played in the Presidents Cup in 2015, and has been waiting to hoist a trophy again since.

Kirk made a wild birdie on the last, after his second shot on the par-5 18th wound up next to the grandstand and underneath someone’s bag that was left against structure. He got a drop, chipped on from there and made the putt to restore a two-shot lead.

And now he has a chance to be a winner again — with most of the players nearest to him on the leaderboard looking for their first tour wins.

“It’s been so long since I’ve won," Kirk said. “I’m going to be plenty nervous, just as nervous as those guys are probably."

Cole stayed in the mix with his second consecutive round of 66.

“It’s awesome,” Cole said. “I’ve never played this event before. Tried to qualify a bunch of times ... I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

Justin Suh holed out from the fairway for an eagle on the par-4 12th, and is alone in third at 10 under. He shot even-par 70 on Saturday.

Shane Lowry (65) is 9 under, and right in the mix after having a chance to win the Honda last year until the 72nd hole. He’s tied with Ben Taylor (69).

“If I can just hang around all day, hopefully I can give myself a chance coming down the stretch,” Lowry said. “I think I did what I needed to do today.”

Among those lurking: defending champion Sepp Straka, who followed opening rounds of 69 and 68 with a 66 on Saturday. He’s 7 under for the week, six shots back. It was Straka’s sixth consecutive round in the 60’s at PGA National.

“It’s a tough test, but if you’re hitting it good, you can score,” Straka said.

Straka went to Georgia, as did Kirk. When Straka got his first win at Honda a year ago, Kirk was one of the players who braved an intense rainstorm to congratulate Straka when it was over.

“We stay together all the time. He’s usually the guy that gets us a house,” Straka said. “I’ve gotten to know Chris very well over the last few years, one of my best friends. He’s been playing great golf for a couple years now. It’s not surprising to me, especially around this course.”

Sunday is a big day for two players with a shot of qualifying for The Players Championship by getting into the top 50 in the world. Min Woo Lee struggled to a 73 on Saturday and is tied for 58th at even par through 54 holes; Adrian Meronk is tied for 20th at 4 under.

Lee started the week No. 47; Meronk started No. 53.

DIVOTS: Ryan Brehm (64) made a big move Saturday, starting the round tied for 60th and finishing tied for 15th at 5-under 205. ... Akshay Bhatia needed a new outfit after playing a ball from the water. He went shirtless for the shot – one of two shirtless escapades during his round -- getting covered in mud, and his girlfriend brought him a change of clothes. “It was really gross. Really, really gross,” Bhatia said.


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