Chris Kirk’s fascination with Fort Worth’s annual PGA Tour event dates back to his college days.
As recipient of the 2007 Ben Hogan Award, given to the nation’s top college golfer during tournament week festivities, he felt a bond. But Kirk took the relationship to a new level Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
He held off a handful of pursuers, including Masters champion Jordan Spieth, to post 12-under par and win an event Kirk, 30, called “my favorite tournament on the PGA Tour since before I was on the PGA Tour.”
The love affair dates to 2006, when Kirk fell short as a Hogan Award finalist and vowed to win it the next year as a senior at Georgia. He did. That triumph, coupled with Sunday’s victory in soggy conditions at a rain-drenched course, made Kirk the first Hogan Award winner to prevail as a touring pro at “Hogan’s Alley,” a distinction he warmly embraces.
“Winning here is beyond special to me,” said Kirk, who posted a closing 66 to edge Spieth, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Bohn by one stroke. “Seeing the incredible history of this place while I was in college really, really made me love it. To be able to come back here now and be the champion is beyond belief to me.”
But it truly happened, thanks to a pair of fading front-runners from the final group (Kevin Na, Ian Poulter) and a positive exchange of putting results with Snedeker at the 72nd hole. With Spieth and Bohn already in the clubhouse at 11 under and warming up for a possible playoff, Snedeker stared at a 12-foot birdie putt that would have taken him to 12 under.
He missed, clearing the way for Kirk to claim a Colonial title if he could bury a 7-foot par putt after driving into the left rough and missing the green with his approach.
“I kind of figured Brandt would make his putt, so I was thinking about getting up and down to get in a playoff,” Kirk said. “But once he missed his putt, I knew it was for the win. I was as nervous as I’ve ever been. To have that feeling going through you when your whole body’s kind of shaking and be able to step up and make that putt, that’s the reason why all of us do this.”
Another reason: Kirk’s $1,170,000 winner’s check that he said will cover next week’s purchase of a new house in Athens, Ga.
“Thankfully, the house costs a lot less than what that check was for, so I think we’ll be all right,” Kirk said.
Kirk, who opened his final round with an eagle at No. 1, survived a crunch-time throwdown between contenders with a pair of back-nine birdies (No. 12, No. 15) and his clutch, closing par.
Spieth, a Dallas resident who posted his third runner-up finish of the season at a tour stop in Texas, put himself in playoff contention by draining a 19-foot birdie putt at No. 18.
Moments earlier, Bohn — who reeled off six consecutive front-nine birdies during a round of 63 — lipped out a 28-foot birdie attempt and tapped in for his 11-under total.
Na and Poulter, the top two players on the leader board after 54 holes, stumbled Sunday with water-logged approach shots at No. 9. Poulter took bogey, Na posted a double bogey. Neither broke even-par 70 on a day when golfers were allowed to play preferred lies through the green and the top four finishers all posted rounds of 67 or better.
“I absolutely made nothing,” Na said, summing up his Sunday putting performance after holding at least a share of the lead for the first three rounds. “It was disgusting.”
Na’s struggles opened the door to a potential rally by Spieth, who commanded the largest galleries of tournament week and rallied with a closing 65. But he said he picked the wrong club at No. 16, leading to a crunch-time bogey he was unable to overcome with his closing birdie.
“Very bad decision on the tee,” said Spieth, who selected a 7-iron instead of an 8-iron at No. 16.
Kirk, meanwhile, had the 9-iron answer from 160 yards on his approach at No. 18 after driving into the deep left rough. A chip and putt later, he also had a plaid jacket and a soon-to-be etched spot on the Wall of Champions.
“To be a small part of the history here is really special,” Kirk said. “I remember in high school, reading golf books and studying people’s swings. Ben Hogan’s always been the standard. To now have even just a little bit of an association with him is very special.”
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760