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‘Dawgs on Tour: I-4 Corridor

The Honda Classic - Final Round Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

We would be remiss if we didn’t spend a little time talking about the fun last week in West Palm Beach. It may start slow, but there’s good news at the end.

Harris English shot 74-70 to miss the cut by 3. Greyson Sigg was only one better at 73-70.

Sepp Straka continued his streak of sub-70 rounds at PGA National (7), with 69-68-66-68 and a tie for 5th place. He received 93 valuable FedEx Cup points and $288,120 in earnings.

But the story is Chris Kirk. And opening 69 was good, but a second round 62 pushed him into a tie for the lead going into the weekend. An excellent 66 Saturday pushed his advantage to 2 strokes entering Sunday’s final round. Kirk made the turn at 2 under par and it seemed no one was going to catch him. But his driver went just a little sour on him, causing a bogey on 13 and forcing several long (but clutch) par saves down the stretch. His birdie on 16 kept him in the lead as mini-Tour legend Eric Cole applied pressure in the final group.

A solid tee shot on the par 5 finishing hole looked to seal the deal. But a blocked 3 wood on his 2nd shot found the water - it actually hit the rocks bordering the green but bounced hard right into the drink. This led to a costly bogey and thus a sudden-death playoff with Cole.

Cole hit the fairway and found the greenside bunker in the playoff while Kirk’s tee shot was behind a palm tree and forced a layup. Advantage: bad guy. But Kirk is pretty measured, and was unflappable with his 100 yard gap wedge which he stiffed to 6 inches. Cole couldn’t get up and down from the sand, and Chris Kirk tapped it in for his 5th PGA Tour win; his first victory since the 2015 Colonial.

What is even more special is that Chris Kirk, a 4 time Tour winner and millionaire golfer, quit playing golf for money. Because he realized he was addicted to alcohol along with some mental health issues and needed to make a change. We’ve covered Kirk’s battle before, but this is a great comeback story, and it is worth telling again. For a more in-depth exploration, you can check out this article from a couple of years ago - its worth the read.

Now we can preview this week’s action on Tour:

Tournament: Bay Hill Invitational Presented by MasterCard, March 2-5, 2023.

Course: Bay Hill Club & Lodge, par 72, 7,466 yards.

Purse: Another designated event - the 4th of 2023. Which means a $20 million purse with $3.6 million to the winner (Kirk won just over $1.5 million Sunday).

Defending Champ: Scottie Scheffler. The UT-Austin product was right in the middle of his hot streak which continued through the Masters. The course was playing hard and fast, and gusty conditions made scoring extremely tough. Scheffler’s 5 under par total was one of only 10 players under par for the tournament.

Fun Fact: Arnold Palmer bought this club in the 1960’s during his heyday and refurbished it over the years. His personal office was onsite, and he probably spent more time here than at home. The course is synonymous with Palmer, adopting his umbrella logo for the club, and after Palmer’s passing, they place Palmer’s Tour bag at the end of the range as a memorial.

TV Times: Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m.-6 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. (Golf Channel), 2:30 p.m.-6 p.m. (NBC). More Dan Hicks and Paul Azinger. And if you’re an ESPN+ subscriber, you have access to 6 or 7 different streams, starting around 7:00 am each day.

‘Dawgs in the Field: 10. Chris Kirk, Harris English, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Brendon Todd, Davis Thompson, Greyson Sigg, Keith Mitchell, Kevin Kisner, Sepp Straka.

The Tour moves from the southeastern part of Florida to the land of special tax districts. With the Players in St. Augustine on the horizon and then a jaunt over to Tampa, players and their entourage will see plenty of I-4.

These Florida courses are usually set up pretty tough. Depending on the late winter conditions, the courses play firmer and they have plenty of water hazards. So expect higher scores and not any of the West Coast birdiefests.

The field is pretty elite, with 44 of the top 50 in the world playing (a couple of international players are skipping, then a few LIV players who are still inside the top 50 like Dustin Johnson, Camerson Smith, Abraham Ancer, etc.). Brian Harman is #24, Sepp Straka is #29, Kirk is #32, Russell Henley is #34, Kisner is #43, and Keith Mitchell is #45. Six former ‘Dawgs inside the top 50 is pretty dang good, no matter how flawed you think the world ranking system is.

Alas, no LIV golf tournament this week. But there is a PGA Tour sanctioned event, the Puerto Rico Open. The only former ‘Dawg entered I see is Ryuji Imada - I honestly didn’t know he was still playing professionally but he had a tremendous amateur and collegiate career.

So if you haven’t quite got into mid-major conference basketball tourneys yet, or don’t really care about streaming spring training baseball with a pitch clock, you can always watch ‘Dawgs chasing little white balls... for a metric shiitake ton of cash. And as always...