Chris Kirk knew what he had just received. But his adjective maybe needed some work.
“Definitely a good break,” he said.
Definitely. Of course, these are not foreign, and we all should get them, considering how often their awful cousins — the bad break — visit. That being said, “good” may not do the most complete job in describing the fortune that came to Kirk during Saturday’s Honda Classic third round. It was more than that. Kirk is a soft-spoken, gentle soul, though, so we’ll try to help.
Was it helpful? Yes, as he was able to drop his ball about 25 yards away from the complete hell where it had landed, and it was now in a much, much happier place. Was it life-changing? That’s still to be decided — there’s still one round to be played — but the break led to a birdie on PGA National’s closing hole, and he now moves into Sunday’s final round with a two-shot cushion. And he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since May of 2015.
“It’s like he’s won the lottery of relief on this drop,” announcer Dan Hicks said on the NBC broadcast.
Possibly. Let’s start from the beginning. Up one coming to the 555-yard, par-5 18th, Kirk found the fairway with stroke one, then ripped a fairway wood past and to the left of the green and the back bunker. But it came to rest against the grandstand, underneath what appeared to be a souvenir bag.
It’s here where we’ll pause to try to paint the shot he would have had, had the seating not been there. He was 25 yards away from the hole. His ball was in thick Bermuda. There was the bunker, between him and the flag. The green sloped toward it.
Then, under the guidance of an official, he picked up his ball and started walking to the right. If you’re familiar with professional golf and seating, you’ve seen this before, but here’s a quick explanation, just in case. Kirk was getting relief from a temporary immovable obstruction — and the USGA offers a wonderful breakdown of it all here — but he couldn’t get the relief if he moved closer to the hole, or if the TIO was still affecting his swing.
So he moved his ball to the right. And the path took him away from the bunker. And to a spot with more grass to work with. But away from the thick grass, too. In the end, it traveled the 25 yards noted above, and he had about a 30-yard shot.
It’s simple, and yet strange. And yes, pros are fully aware of the play.
“What a break,” analyst Paul Azinger said on the broadcast.
“It’s kind of a double-edge sword, Zing,” Hicks continued.” You want to bring as many people close to the action in the game of golf, but with these structures getting bigger and seemingly more closer, we’re seeing some guys get some breaks. And not just relief from the stands. But significantly better angle here for Kirk, who went way long.”
“Players are smart and strategic, and they know you can bail left into that grandstand and get a drop,” Azinger said.
“And Dan, like you said, it’s only the angle, but where his ball was, that whole area back there is Bermuda,” analyst John Wood said. “You can’t get good contact. It’s going to come out and release. Where he’s going to end up is all fairway cut. … He’s going to be able to nip something if he wants.”
After his drop, Kirk one-hopped a chip into the upslope toward the green, and his ball finished 6 from the hole. He made that, he finished with a four-under 66, and he’ll start Sunday with the two-shot lead.
“That was well executed,” Azinger said on the broadcast, of the chip.
“If you’re going to be 25 yards away from where you were, you might as well take advantage of it fully,” Hicks said.
“And Zinger, I’m just looking at where his ball was,” Wood said. “If he would have had to play from up top and go over that bunker and land onto a downslope, 30 feet would have been pretty good.”
“We knew when he hit that shot he was going to be in deep trouble back there,” Azinger said. “But what a terrific break. Like Dan said, it’s like a lottery of relief.”
Kirk, as we mentioned at the start, agreed. Afterward, he was simply asked: How big was that ruling?
“Yeah, definitely made that a much more doable shot,” he said. “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.
“Definitely a good break, but executed a great pitch shot there and drained the putt, which was a nice way to finish.”
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