Return trip to Augusta in Kirk’s sights
by John Bednarowski
jbednarowski@cherokeetribune.com
April 13, 2014 04:00 AM | 846 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Chris Kirk saw another round of improvement Saturday, shooting 71 and putting him within reach of a top-10 finish.
<Br>Associated Press photo
Chris Kirk saw another round of improvement Saturday, shooting 71 and putting him within reach of a top-10 finish.
Associated Press photo
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AUGUSTA — As he headed into Saturday’s third round, Chris Kirk said he was happy that he was just playing the weekend, after two days without his best game.

After his 1-under par 71 on the Masters’ penultimate day, he can start thinking about playing next year, too.

The former Etowah High School standout sits at 2-over par 218 for the tournament and in a tie for 18th, seven shots behind co-leaders Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth.

The top 12 finishers, along with ties, at the conclusion of today’s final round will earn an invitation for next year’s Masters. Kirk, though, said there’s no change in his goals or approach.

“I kind of said (Friday) that, if I play a really solid weekend, I could potentially finish in the top 10,” Kirk said. “So, no, no changes at all.”

Kirk will tee off with PGA Tour veteran Steve Stricker today at 1 p.m.

After a front-nine 36, Kirk birdied the par-4 10th and par-3 16th, on the way to a 35 on the back nine.

But, with a little luck, it could have been a lot better.

On the par-5 13th, Kirk hit a wedge to the back pin placement and, after one big hop, it trickled just off the back edge. Somehow, the ensuing chip back up the slope and then downhill to the hole, stopped less than a full rotation from going in.

“I hit the wedge shot just a bit harder than I meant to,” Kirk said. “I knew, as soon as it came off the club, it was a little bit too hard, but my ball almost stayed on the back of the green and that chip shot, I don’t know how it stopped. It was hanging over the front lip of the hole going downhill. I’m not sure how it didn’t go in.”

The following hole, gravity worked against Kirk again — this time on his second shot, which landed just left of the pin.

“I thought I hit my second shot perfect,” Kirk said. “I thought it would have caught that slope and went right to the hole, and I was shocked when it didn’t. I had a 20-foot putt that I literally hit a foot. I was right on the cusp of where the ball couldn’t stop, so all I had to do was get it moving and it was going to get to the hole.”

On 15, after a perfect drive, Kirk found himself with the perfect yardage to try reaching the par-5 in two, but just as he went to pull the club out of the bag, the breeze picked up. He was then forced to lay up and missed another possible opportunity for a birdie.

On 16, Kirk took no chances.

After hitting an 8-iron 10-feet right of the pin, Kirk finally had an opportunity to get aggressive with a putt, and he took it.

“The one on 16 was a relatively flat putt, but it was one of those putts you kind of know in the back of your mind, if you hit it 3 feet by, there’s a chance it is going to go in the water,” Kirk said. “(The green is) that severe that close to where that pin is.

“But, for out here, it was as simple and flat a putt as you can have, so I ignored the possibility of putting it into the water and I put it in the hole instead.”

Kirk finished with a bogey at 18, which dropped him back to 2-over. But fans watching both on television and at the course thought the misstep made him 1-over for the tournament. The scores of Kirk and playing partner, former world No. 1 Martin Kaymer, were incorrect the entire back nine, and Kirk had been credited with Kaymer’s birdie on No. 9 instead of the par he actually made.

Kirk got off to an inconsistent start in his third round. After a birdie at the par-5 second, he missed a 4-foot par putt on the par-3 fourth, three-putted for bogey on the par-3 sixth and put his second shot in the back bunker of the par-4 seventh.

Faced with a bunker shot that was straight downhill, Kirk trickled the ball 7 feet past the hole and made the putt coming back.

“That was a nice putt I hit on 7,” he said. “There’s no such thing as an easy putt around here, but I hit that one confidently, and it went right in the middle, and it kind of got me going a little bit. And then I made a nice putt for birdie on 8 as well.”
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