Who in their right mind would choose to play for $8.4 million when they have a spot in a designated event with a purse totaling $20 million?
Chris Kirk, that’s who.
Kirk, who withdrew from last week’s Genesis Invitational, is the 54-hole leader at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, after posting a 4-under 66 in the third round Saturday at PGA National’s Champions Course to improve to 13-under 197.
Kirk skipped last week’s Genesis Invitational, where winner Jon Rahm banked $3.6 million, to compete in this week’s tournament with a slimmed-down $8.4 million purse and with the winner expected to cash a check for a measly $1.512 million, or less than half the amount offered at the Genesis. On paper, it makes for a curious decision.
And yet Kirk withdrew from last week’s Genesis Invitational ahead of the tournament after missing the cut at the WM Phoenix Open with an eye on playing a course more suited for his game. Crazy like a fox? Yes, indeed, but it is why PGA Tour pros cling to being independent contractors with the right to pick and choose the tournaments where they feel like they have the best chance for success.
Chris Kirk currently leads by 2.
His last PGA Tour win came at Colonial in 2015. To put that into some perspective, that was the week before Bryson DeChambeau won the 2015 NCAA individual title.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) February 25, 2023
But before passing judgment, let’s hear Kirk out first. He didn’t WD citing an injury or because he was in desperate need of a break. He’d skipped the Farmers Insurance Open and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Prior to missing the cut in Phoenix, he was riding a hot streak, recording a T-3 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and a third at the American Express, which vaulted him from No. 90 in the Official World Golf Ranking to No. 47.
That means he has a legitimate shot to qualify for the Masters in April by staying in the top 50 in the OWGR at the cut-off, March 27, following the week of the WGC Dell Match Play and a week before the Masters. A win at the Honda Classic on Sunday, of course, would make all of that moot.
Digging deeper into Kirk’s unusual decision it becomes abundantly clear that he has never fared well at Riviera. He’s played in Tinseltown just four times in his career dating to 2011, making the cut only once — a T-33 in 2013 — and last played there in 2016. All those fades at Hogan’s Alley just don’t suit Kirk’s draw.
The gigantic purse proved to be a big enough draw to convince Kirk to sign up for the Genesis but not to go through with competing there. Did missing the cut at Phoenix dent his confidence? Did he come to the conclusion that Riviera didn’t fit his eye?
According to a source in his camp, he simply determined he liked his chances better at the Honda Classic, where he finished a career-best T-7 last year in 11 previous appearances at PGA National, and pulled out. This despite the fact that a top-10 finish last week would’ve netted more than half a million dollars and the strength of field meant plenty of world ranking points. It will take a solo third or better for Kirk, who is seeking his first win since the 2015 Charles Schwab Challenge, to break half a million this week at the weakest field of the season on Tour. But so far through three rounds of the Honda Classic, his calculated move looks to be ingenious and could lead to an automatic exemption to the Masters, a seven-figure payday and so much more.