It was tongue-in-cheek, but Tahnee Kirk was semi-serious about how she wanted to celebrate her first wedding anniversary. If she was going to watch husband Chris play the final round of the Knoxville News Sentinel Open, he’d better figure out a way to win the tournament.
Kirk, the 54-hole leader, came through with flying colors for his wife, who arrived in town Saturday night from their home in Georgia. The Knoxville-born Kirk fired a back-nine 31 to finish at 20-under 268 and earn his second Nationwide Tour title this year.
Kirk broke out of a late afternoon tie with back-to-back birdies on the final two holes to win by two shots over Travis Bertoni (67).
North Carolina’s Matt Davidson (64) and 48-year old Kirk Triplett (69) tied for third place, three shots back Kirk, who joins Tommy Gainey and Martin Piller as the Tour’s double-winners in 2010.
Kirk, who lost a playoff here in 2008 to Jarrod Lyle, collected $90,000 for his efforts and vaulted from No. 4 to No. 1 on the money list, becoming the first player to go over the $400,000 mark this season.
“It can’t get any better than this,” said Kirk afterwards. “My wife flew in last night and for her to be here, with so many of my family members, it’s just tremendous.”
Kirk began the final day at Fox Den Country Club at 15 under par and armed with a one-stroke lead over Triplett. He struggled with an even-par 36 on his opening nine.
“Playing with the lead can be difficult mentally at times,” said Kirk, whose first win came in June at the Fort Smith (Ark.) Classic without his wife in attendance. “I made the turn and I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing. I tried to stay patient but I knew even par wasn’t going to win this tournament, not on this Tour. I knew making the turn that I wasn’t going to be leading anymore. I knew I had to get after it on the back nine. I figured four birdies would put me right where I wanted to be.”
Kirk followed through, finally breaking through with birdies at Nos. 11 and 12 to reach 17 under. Just about that time and some 80 minutes ahead on the pairing sheet, Davidson was polishing off an 8-under 64 to take the clubhouse lead at minus 17.
Playing alongside of Triplett, a three-time PGA Tour winner, Kirk grabbed a one-stroke lead with a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-4 17th.
Bertoni was one group in front of the final twosome and one stroke back when he dunked his second shot on the par-5 18th into the water that covers the entire front of the green.
“It was a bad shot at the wrong time,” he said of his 6-iron that came up short. “I wanted to try and force his (Kirk) hand and make him make birdie to win. I hit a natural fade and I just came out of it. I was begging for it not to kick into the water. I was trying to get it in there about 20-25 feet. If I could have that shot back I’d hit the exact same shot with the exact same club.”
Bertoni got up and down for par, finishing at 18-under 270.
Kirk’s closing tee shot was down the right side of the fairway and he had 210 yards to a middle right pin position. He aimed left but pushed his 5-iron a little too close towards the water before it drew back and settled 12 feet behind the cup.
“I wanted to hit it up there close and end it,” he said. “It was nice to see that ball land on the green.”
He had three putts to win but needed only two for a birdie and his final winning margin.
“This win was a lot harder than the first one,” he said. “In Fort Smith I was felt like I could have made every putt one-handed if I wanted to. This one was tough. I had to work for this one and it was a lot more rewarding in that respect.”
And it made for a pretty good anniversary celebration.
Fourth-Round Notes: Cris Kirk also received a bright University of Tennessee-orange sports jacket, courtesy of the Vols’ head men’s basketball coach, Bruce Pearl. Kirk, a University of Georgia graduate, donned the jacket for post-tournament photos and said he was expecting to receive a lot of calls from his Bulldog friends regarding the jacket. “The winner gets to wear the jacket, so I don’t mind putting it on for a while,” he said. “I’m just not sure how often I’ll break it out and wear it at home.” … Sunday’s scoring average was 70.152. … The scoring average for the week was 71.025.
Tournament officials kept the tee way up on the par-5 18th hole. The tee was forward about 85 yards from it’s normal spot and turned the 597-yard hole into a reachable, two-shot hole measuring about 512 yards. The hole yielded four eagles today, along with 30 birdies, 27 pars and five bogeys and had a scoring average of 4.500. … Steve Pate’s 7-under 29 on the back nine matched the lowest back-nine score in tournament history. Gary Woodland set the mark with his 29 in Friday’s second round. … John Daly drew big crowds as a sponsor exemption this week. Daly posted scores of 67-73-73-67—280. … Jim Herman eagled the par-5 18th hole to finish at 14 under and tied for seventh. This was only Herman’s second top-10 finish of the year and his first since winning the Moonah Classic in Australia, where he defeated Chris Kirk in a playoff. Herman collected $14,550 and remained No. 13 on the season money list.
Andrew Svoboa birdied the final two holes today and wound up 14-under 274, good for a tie for seventh, his first career top-10. Svoboa, a rookie on Tour, has made 20 starts this year and his previous best finish was a tie for 14th (twice). … Second-year pro Jonas Blixt birdied his final three holes today for a bogey-free 66 and finished tied for seventh. Blixt, a graduate of Florida State University, was runner up in his last start at the Price Cutter Charity Championship. … Runner-up Travis Bertoni had his career-best finish and collected $54,000. Bertoni vaulted from No. 104 to No. 52 on the money list. … Veteran Kirk Triplett tied for third, his first top-10 finish on any Tour since he won the 2006 Chrysler Classic of Tucson, a span of 80 starts (77 PGA Tour, 3 Nationwide Tour).