Chris Kirk, U.S.A.
Chris Kirk popped on the scene in the PGA Tour in 2014, finishing second in the FedEx Cup standings after he won the second PGA Tour playoff event, the Deutsche Bank Championship and then finished T-4 at the Tour Championship. Kirk was a notable snub from Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup roster after his great play down the stretch, but he’s bounced back from that disappointment and is playing well again in 2015.
Kirk has two top-10 finishes this season in the McGladrey Classic and the Valero Texas Open, where he finished T-8 in a field of high scores due to wind. The down-side to Kirk is that he’s also struggled this season. While he has four top-25 finishes, he’s missed three cuts, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Honda Classic and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It definitely shows that there’s some worry with Kirk, but with the strong play we saw from him in the biggest tournaments last season, I think he has a chance to emerge from the shadows and top the leaderboard at the Masters.
In 2014, Kirk finished a respectable T-20 at the Masters and also finished T-28 at the U.S. Open and T-19 at the British Open. I think he’s ready to build on those finishes after his excellent play in the 2014 PGA Tour playoffs.
Kirk is not hitting the ball as far as some of these other guys at just 286 yards per drive, but his approach game has been strong this season and it’s not always the biggest hitters that are winning the Masters. Kirk also ranks sixth in sand save percentage this year and his best putting comes when it matters most, in the fourth round where his 26 putt average ranks fourth on tour. His final round scoring average of 69.13 is his best by round average and ranks in the top 20 on tour as well.
Something about Kirk feels right. I’m not saying he’s going to win the Green Jacket this year, but he’s proven that he can perform well in the big tournaments like he did in 2014, and he hasn’t gotten the chance to prove that yet in 2015. With the first major tournament coming up, look for Kirk to get in that winning mindset and surprise a lot of people.
Next: Vijay Singh