Golf roundup: Former UGA standout Chris Kirk wins Honda Classic to end victory drought

AP photo by Lynne Sladky / Chris Kirk hits from a bunker and onto the third green at PGA National during the final round of the Honda Classic on Sunday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Chris Kirk waited nearly eight years to win a PGA Tour event again. Waiting one more hole on Sunday was no problem.

Kirk stuck his approach to the par-5 18th to tap-in range, and his birdie on the first hole of a playoff lifted him past Eric Cole for a victory at the Honda Classic.

Cole had a chance, playing his third shot from the sand to just outside of 10 feet for a birdie that would have extended the playoff. But it lipped out, and Kirk nudged his ball in for his fifth PGA Tour win — the 37-year-old former University of Georgia standout's first since prevailing in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in May 2015.

"I was obviously very, very nervous today having not won in so long," Kirk said. "Coming down the stretch, I felt good."

And now he'll be the last winner of the Honda Classic. The car company is ending its title sponsorship of the event at PGA National Golf Club after 42 years, with a new sponsor set to be in place — the PGA Tour hopes, anyway — in the coming weeks.

The playoff participants first finished 72 holes on the Champion Course at 14-under 266, Kirk closing with a 69 and Cole a 67.

Kirk earned $1,512,000 for the win and is now eligible to play the Masters again for the first time since 2016. Cole earned $915,600 for the runner-up finish, a check that more than doubles what the 34-year-old has earned in 14 previous starts on the PGA Tour.

"I loved it. It was a lot of fun," Cole said. "I can't wait to get back and do it again. I didn't have my best stuff today, and I was proud of how hard I fought."

Kirk went to the par-5 18th with a one-shot lead. His tee shot found the fairway. His second shot found the water, leading to a bogey. Cole made a par, giving Kirk new life in the playoff.

"Bad swing at the wrong time. ... Thank God it worked out," Kirk said.

Kirk hadn't held a trophy since 2015. That's not to say he hasn't done any winning in that span.

He walked away from the game in May 2019 because of alcoholism and depression. He struggled with anxiety, struggled to deal with pressure, even though he had a penchant for making it seem like no big deal on the golf course, with his success including making a big putt to help the U.S. win the 2015 Presidents Cup in South Korea.

The PGA Tour gave him a major medical extension for the time he missed, meaning he had a set number of tournaments to do well enough to regain his full status. He got it back by the slimmest of margins at the Sony Open in 2021.

And now he's a champion again.

"I just have so much to be thankful for," Kirk said. "I'm so grateful for my sobriety, I'm so grateful for my family, I'm so grateful for everyone that has supported throughout the past three or four years."

Tyler Duncan, No. 360 in the Official World Golf Ranking coming into the week, shot a 66 and was third at 12 under. Monday qualifier Ryan Gerard, playing the weekend for the first time on the PGA Tour, shot a 67 and was fourth at 10 under.

Chattanooga's Stephan Jaeger shot his second straight 67 and tied for 14th at 6 under. It's the best finish for the former Baylor School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga standout from Germany since he shared ninth at the Houston Open in November.

Howell's putter pays off

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico — Charles Howell III finally made winning feel easy when his putter came to life for an 8-under 63 to win the LIV Golf Invitational Mayakoba by four shots.

Howell had seven birdies through 10 holes to take control on the El Camaleon course, then got some help when Peter Uihlein had to hit three tee shots on the 12th in a triple bogey that removed any drama from the final round of the LIV Golf League's 2023 season opener.

Howell finished the 54-hole, no-cut event at 16-under 197 in his sixth start in LIV, which launched last summer, and picked up $4 million, earning an additional $1 million for leading his Crushers team to a nine-shot victory.

The opener of LIV's 14-tournament schedule was a happy time for Howell, a 42-year-old from Augusta, Georgia, who won only three times in 23 seasons and 607 starts on the PGA Tour.

"It's great," Howell said. "It's a big win, and we got the team win."

Two of his three PGA Tour wins were in playoffs, and the other was a two-shot triumph.

Howell had a bogey-free card Sunday, and most of his birdies were in the range of eight to 15 feet as he ran off four in a row and rarely made any mistakes. He played 13 times at Mayakoba when it hosted a PGA Tour event from 2007 until last November, with his best finish a tie for fourth.

"I've played here many times, so I had an idea what to expect," Howell said. "Around this place, there's double bogeys everywhere, so you never know."

He left that to fellow Oklahoma State alum Uihlein, who began the final round sharing the lead with a third former Cowboys standout, Talor Gooch.

Uihlein was still in the mix when he snap-hooked his drive into the woods. He hit a provisional for a lost ball and sent that one into the trees on his right. He found the original ball and, after trying to remove a pile of limbs and contemplating a penalty for an unplayable lie, chose to go back to the tee.

It added up to a triple bogey, but Uihlein made the most of the final six holes with enough birdies for a 68 to finish alone in second. Asked what he would differently, he smiled and said, "Skip the 12th."

South Africa's Branden Grace (67) and finished third at 10 under. Gooch (76) finished just outside out of the top 10.

American's first win

PATTAYA, Thailand — American player Lilia Vu rode a hot putter to secure her first LPGA Tour victory, winning by one shot over home favorite Natthakritta Vongtaveelap at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

After trailing the local rookie by six strokes at the start of the day, the 25-year-old California native unleashed eight impressive birdies, including five straight from the eighth hole to the 12th, for an immaculate round of 8-under 64 and a 22-under 266 total over 54 holes at Siam Country Club Old Course.

"Yesterday my dad told me that just one good round and I could win. That's all I kept thinking about. Basically today I just blacked out and tried to birdie every single hole I could," said Vu, who had three third-place finishes in 2022.

The UCLA alum came up short again at a Ladies European Tour event in Saudi Arabia last week, when she was third again.

"I knew I was going to win, it was just when ... and I finally did," she said.

Vu became the third American to triumph in the event after Lexi Thompson in 2016 and Jessica Korda in 2018.

Vongtaveelap's lack of experience took a toll in her first LPGA event, with the 20-year-old enduring a mixed final round — seven birdies offset by a double bogey and four bogeys for a 71. Her hope for forcing a playoff was dashed after her birdie attempt on the closing hole stopped a foot away from the pin.

Another Thai golfer, Atthaya Thitikul (68) was third at 20 under.

Siem's wait is over

NEW DELHI — Marcel Siem won the DP World Tour's Hero Indian Open by a single shot, ending his long wait for a fifth triumph on the Europe-based circuit.

The 42-year German's previous win was eight years and 116 days earlier at the 2014 BMW Masters, but he closed with a 4-under 68 at DLF Golf & Country club to finish at 14-under 274, holding off countryman Yannik Paul (70).

Dutch player Joost Luiten (68) was another stroke back in third.

Siem, who had to secure his card for the 2023 season at qualifying school in November, went into the final round one shot behind 54-hole leader Paul.

He took a share of the lead after sinking a 20-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole. After picking up another shot on the par-five eighth, Siem made back-to-back gains on the 10th and 11th to establish a two-shot cushion. However, his bogey on the 13th led to a two-shot swing, with Paul making a birdie the same hole to join Siem at 13 under.

After saving par on the tough 14th, Siem holed a 15-foot birdie to regain the outright lead, then closed with three pars, rolling in a three-foot putt on the 18th to win moments after Paul slid wide with his birdie attempt from about 12 feet. Siem threw his cap to the ground — and then, with his arms outstretched, shouted "Wow!"

Said Siem: "This means a lot because two years ago I wasn't even sure if I could still compete ... and now I'm a winner again, come on."