PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — After firing a bogey-free 8-under 62 Friday to skyrocket up the Honda Classic leaderboard, Chris Kirk played steady golf on Saturday before finishing with a flourish.
Kirk, who started the day one shot behind second-round leader Justin Suh, finished birdie-birdie Saturday for a 4-under 66 and a two-shot lead over PGA Tour rookie Eric Cole.
Cole continued his standout play, posting his second consecutive 66 to finish at 11 under through three rounds at the Champion course at PGA National Resort & Spa. Suh shot an even-par 70 and was in third place at 10 under.
Kirk had gotten to 4 under for the round through 12 holes before a couple of admittedly bad bogeys at 13 and 16 when he didn’t get up and down from just off the green. But he sank an 18-foot putt for birdie at the par-3 17th and then got a favorable ruling when his second shot to the par-5 18th lodged under a sandbag against the grandstand behind the green. He was allowed to drop his ball in a good spot. He got up and down, making a 6½-foot putt.
“It definitely made that a much more doable shot,” said Kirk of the ruling. “It was a shot that I could have gotten up and down for sure hitting a flop shot from the rough over the bunker, but thankfully where I dropped was much more straightforward. The lie was clean, but that grass right there was kind of sandy and straight into the grain. That was why I chose to hit that kind of low driving shot, just to give myself a little better chance at some good contact. That was one where if I try to hit more of a higher pitch and land it on the green, I could have hit it right in front of myself.
“It was definitely a good break, but I executed a great pitch shot there and drained the putt, which was a nice way to finish.”
Kirk, who had an eagle and six birdies Friday, took the lead Saturday on the fourth hole when he birdied and Suh didn’t save par from a greenside bunker. Kirk, of Athens, Georgia, added birdies at the eighth and 11th to get to 12 under for a three-shot lead over his closest pursuers.
A turning point came on the par-4 12th, when Suh hit an 8-iron from 153 yards into the hole for an eagle, which put him at 11 under.
“I was asking for it to sit. My caddie wanted it to go, and it was right in the middle, so it was perfect,” said Suh.
But Kirk followed that by rolling in an 11-footer for birdie to get to 13 under.
“I guess that was somewhat making a statement,” he said. “For him to hit an unbelievable shot, just hooping it from the fairway, that was cool to see. But yeah, to be able to kind of stay composed and stay in my process and make that putt, that was huge, yeah.”
Cole, 34, whose best finish this season was a tie for 15th at AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, two-putted for birdie on the 18th to finish off another solid round.
“I’m hitting the ball well, which is always good,” Cole said. “It’s important around here. There’s so many tough shots. But I felt good today, which was really nice. I felt relatively comfortable out there and hit some good shots when I needed to.”
Shane Lowry was tied for fourth at 9 under with Ben Taylor after a 5-under 65, the second-lowest round of the day. Lowry had gotten to 6 under for the day, including three straight birdies on the back nine, but bogeys at 14 and 17 slowed his momentum.
A tap-in birdie at the par-5 18th put him in a similar position as last year, when he came from behind to take the lead. A torrential rainstorm on the final hole prevented him from making a birdie, which would have forced a playoff with winner Sepp Straka.
Asked whether he has learned anything from that experience, Lowry said, “I just hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.
“No, look, this golf course, you don’t know what’s going to happen. A lot of holes are a bit of disaster holes. You just need to be very cautious and aggressive to your targets and just go out there and give it your best, and if that’s good enough at the end of the day, you hope to be standing here with the trophy.”
A native of Ireland who lives in Jupiter, Lowry almost withdrew from the Honda after his father’s older brother, Jimmy, died unexpectedly Thursday morning. He was 66.
“It’s a very sad week for our family. To be honest, I wanted to go home on Thursday when I heard the news. A lot of people talked me out of it,” said Lowry, who wore a green-and-white ribbon on his cap in honor of his uncle. “I’m here now. I’m trying to play for him and play for his wife and his kids and my cousins and my uncles and my aunts and everyone at home.
“Hopefully I can go out and make him proud tomorrow. Everyone keeps telling me how proud he was of me over the last number of years, and hopefully I can do him another day proud tomorrow.”