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‘My PGA Tour career would have been over a while ago’: Chris Kirk credits sobriety after Hawaii win

By Jack Bantock, CNN

(CNN) — There was a time when Chris Kirk thought he might never play on the PGA Tour again, let alone win a tournament. In Hawaii on Sunday, he saw in 2024 with his second triumph in less than a year.

A stunning birdie at the penultimate hole fired the American to victory at The Sentry in Maui, his final round – an eight-under 65 – enough to edge compatriot Sahith Theegala by a single stroke at 29-under overall.

Perfect final round conditions at the Plantation Course capped a week of exceptionally low scoring, with all 59 players on the field shooting under-par for the second time in four days, with South Korean Sungjae Im tallying 34 birdies. That set a new PGA Tour record for birdies in a 72-hole event, with Im sinking 10 on Sunday to surge to tied-fifth.

Yet it was the 30th and final of Kirk’s personal-best PGA Tour event birdie haul, set up by a 209-yard approach to within three feet of the hole, that saw the American golfer claim his sixth PGA Tour title and the $3.6 million (£2.83 million) winner’s purse.

Nine months on from his victory at the Honda Classic, the 38-year-old has had to wait far less time for a win this time around. Last year’s triumph in Florida had marked Kirk’s first PGA Tour success in almost eight years, and his first since committing to sobriety four years prior.

On the eve of his 34th birthday in May 2019, Kirk announced he would be taking an “indefinite leave” from golf to deal with his alcohol abuse and depression. Then-ranked 188th in the world, Kirk reflected on his journey Sunday, with the American poised to climb to world No. 25 – his best position since 2015.

“It’s 100% the reason why I’m able to do what I do,” Kirk told reporters.

“I’ve said that a lot, but my PGA Tour career would have been over a while ago had I not gotten sober.”

Candid about his experiences since his return from his six-month absence, Kirk was named the recipient of the PGA Tour’s Courage Award for 2023, presented to an individual who “through courage and perseverance, has overcome extraordinary adversity, such as personal tragedy or debilitating injury or illness, to make a significant and meaningful contribution to the game of golf.”

Having previously fallen out of love with “most things in life,” a rejuvenated Kirk is relishing finding “joy” in his sobriety journey and golfing rehabilitation.

“I just love how hard this is. It’s so hard to be great at this, and I love the process that it takes,” he said.

“I love the work that it takes to try to be the best version of myself. I definitely have fallen back in love with that process, and sometimes you get rewarded for it, like today, and sometimes you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“I think to be successful and to really enjoy your life as a PGA Tour player you’ve got to love the work.”

Theegala, chasing his second PGA Tour title, was forced to settle for the third runner-up finish of his tour career.

“It’s always tough when you come so close, because you don’t get a lot of chances,” the 26-year-old Theegala told reporters.

“It is a little emotional, but I’ve been here before, and I think having one in the bag is something that I’m going to look back on as really positive.”

Three-time major champion Jordan Spieth finished a shot behind Theegala in third, while South Korea’s An Byeong-han placed fourth.

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