After 179 starts and nearly eight years since his last victory on the PGA Tour, Chris Kirk survived finding the water on 18 to beat rookie Eric Cole in a playoff for the Honda Classic.
Kirk came into Sunday with a two-stroke lead, and after a two-under front nine he was enjoying a gap on the rest of the field.
Cole was not flawless, but his work on the greens was exceptional, with 11 one-putts through the first 15 holes to keep the pressure on Kirk as he tried to become the first rookie winner this season.
Paired together, the duo reached the final hole with Kirk ahead by one, but after a perfect tee shot he went for the par-five green in two, coming up just short and finding the water.
It left the door wide open for Cole, who could have stolen the win with a birdie, but his approach found the bunker, and he could only salvage a par. Meanwhile, Kirk made bogey, setting them up to replay the 18th for the playoff.
This time Kirk's tee shot nestled in right behind a tree trunk, forcing him to play conservative and lay-up, while Cole went for it in two and was long into the bunker.
Kirk's approach was the tournament winner, spinning it into range for a tap-in birdie, and while Cole got out of the bunker and gave himself a makeable birdie putt, it tragically lipped out to hand Kirk the win.
The wait is over— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 26, 2023
2,836 days since his last victory, @Chris_Kirk_ is a champion again @TheHondaClassic. pic.twitter.com/yo1EQNdCBO
Speaking after stepping off the final green, Kirk reflected on his journey the past few years, having temporarily stepped away from the game in 2019 to deal with alcohol and depression issues.
"I can't yet [describe it]," he said. "I just have so much to be thankful for. I'm so grateful for my sobriety, I'm so grateful for my family, I'm so grateful for everyone who has supported me throughout the past three or four years especially.
"I definitely did [draw on recent top-three finishes]. I was obviously very, very nervous today, having not won in so long.
"Going down the stretch I felt good, obviously that putt on 16 was huge. I was in a great position on 18, but just made a bad swing at the wrong time.
"I was just trying to stay aggressive and hit it in the middle of the green, but you know, in hindsight it probably would have been better to hit it over to the left somewhere – but thank god it worked out."
For the win, Kirk took home $1.5million, while Cole's consolation prize of $915,000 will soften the blow.