Cloudy conditions and only a gentle, Pacific breeze meant just about everyone was in the mix at Waialae Country Club — even John Daly. At one point, there was a six-way tie for the lead Saturday in the third round. An hour later, 14 players were separated by a single shot.
Kirk got up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 18th hole, making a 10-foot birdie putt that gave the Etowah High School product the lead over fellow Georgia alum Harris English (67) and rookie Will Wilcox (64), who is playing only the third PGA Tour event of his career.
Kirk was at 12-under 198.
Daly matched the low score of the third round with a 64 and was five shots behind. Masters champion Adam Scott wasn’t making up any ground, dropped two shots late in his round and finished with a two-putt birdie for a 71 and was two shots behind.
A dozen players were separated by three shots going into today, a group that includes Kapalua winner Zach Johnson as he tries to become the first player since Ernie Els in 2003 to sweep the Hawaii swing.
Kirk and English both are going for their second win of this wraparound season that began in October. Kirk won the McGladrey Classic in November, his final tournament of the year before taking time off for the birth of his second child. English finished the year with a win in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico.
The plan for both of them is to not worry about anyone else because there would be too many players to worry about.
“When it’s so close like that, everybody is going to be making some birdies here and there,” Kirk said. “So I probably won’t look at leaderboards as much as I normally would. A lot of courses I think lend themselves to you need to know what your position is going into any given hole, but out here, I don’t think that’s really the case. They’re just so volatile with guys making birdies and bogeys.
“I’ll just probably try to keep my head down and make as many birdies as I can.”
Former Sony Open champion Jerry Kelly (66) and Jimmy Walker (67) were at 10-under 200, while the group at 201 included Robert Allenby (65), Pat Perez (66), Retief Goosen (66) and Johnson, who had a 66. Brian Stuard, who had a one-shot lead going into the third round, had a 71 and also was still only three shots behind.
Perez was among those tied for the lead until he four-putted the 14th, the final three putts from 3 feet. PGA champion Jason Dufner three-putted from 3 feet on the 18th hole for a bogey and was four shots behind.
The long shot would have to be Wilcox, who learned to play from his mother, a golf pro at Pine Harbor in Alabama. Small for his age, he played at least 36 holes a day as a kid, a habit that only changed after he was old enough to drive.
He played the Canadian Open when he was playing on the Canadian Tour. He qualified for the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, where his thrill was a practice round with Johnson and Padraig Harrington. And now this.
Wilcox earned his card by finishing 10th on the Web.com Tour money list last year, though he fell back by not playing the Web.com Tour finals for what he said was “personal stuff.”
“I didn’t know what was going to happen this week,” Wilcox said. “Making the cut was a dream come true. Playing good on Saturday was a dream come true. Getting to have a decent shot (today) is ridiculous. We’ll see.”
Having a decent shot might seem like a dream for Allenby considering where his game has been.
He made only five cuts in 24 tournaments last year and had to use an exemption from career money (top 25) to get his card. Allenby has been making enough putts to at least give himself a chance, and for that, he credits the games he plays at home in Florida. What should have been taken as an insult as turned into a benefit.
“I’ve been playing the guys at Admiral’s Cove, all the 60-year-olds, and they make me putt out because they’re like waiting for me to miss,” he said. “I keep shooting 7-, 8-, 9-unders and stuff with them. They’ve put me in a good mental state for out here on tour.”