Kirk confident of doing well — if he can master slopes of Augusta National greens
by John Bednarowski
sportseditor@mdjonline.com
April 10, 2014 04:02 AM | 1312 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Young Sawyer Kirk came along for the trip as his father, former Etowah High School star Chris Kirk, competed in the Masters’ par-3 contest Wednesday afternoon. 
<BR>Associated Press photo
Young Sawyer Kirk came along for the trip as his father, former Etowah High School star Chris Kirk, competed in the Masters’ par-3 contest Wednesday afternoon.
Associated Press photo
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AUGUSTA — If Chris Kirk plans to be in contention at the 2014 Masters, he knows he will have to have one of the best putting tournaments of his career.

And that’s one of the reasons why Kirk, the 28-year-old Acworth native and former Etowah high school standout, was one of the last players off the golf course Tuesday night, and back to work early Wednesday morning.

“I did a lot more putting than I would normally do on a Tuesday,” Kirk said. “There are just some of the putts up and over the slopes and down some of the ridges — there are just so many kind of crazy putts that you end up with out here. It’s good to get a little bit of the feel for it, even though the greens aren’t quite up to speed than they will be (today).”

Kirk has had the opportunity to play Augusta National prior to earning his debut spot in the Masters. While at the University of Georgia, Kirk and the Bulldogs would come to Augusta each spring and play as the club was beginning its tournament preparations. One year, Kirk even shot 30 on the back nine, but he spent his practice rounds this week playing with people who could help him with some of the finer points of course management.

On Tuesday, Kirk played with Ernie Els, a two-time Masters runner-up and four-time major champion. On Wednesday, he went around the course for a practice round with fellow first-timer Kevin Stadler, the son of 1982 Masters champion Craig Stadler.

“(Els) shared a few tidbits here and there, which were nice,” Kirk said, “but I’m also lucky that my caddie, Scott Tway has worked at least 15 Masters.”

Tway is the brother of current Champions Tour player Bob Tway, a Wheeler High School graduate and winner of the 1986 PGA Championship.

Kirk’s education will continue today when he plays his opening round with two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer. Kirk and Langer will tee off at 12:53 p.m., along with European Tour regular Francesco Molinari.

While Kirk is in the midst of the best season of his career — he has already earned more than $2 million this season, and he currently sits sixth on the FedEx Cup points list — Kirk came to Augusta National in a bit of a lull.

After winning the McGladrey Classic last fall, coupled with a second-place finish at the Sony Open in January, Kirk has had only one other top-20 finish — a tie for 12th at the Honda Classic in early March. At Last week’s Houston Open, he opened with 68, only to follow with three over-par rounds to finish in a tie for 65th.

Kirk, however, is one of 24 first-time competitors in the Masters this year, and he said he feels like he has as good of a chance to win this week as any other player in the field.

“I think I have as good of a chance as any week,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of really good players here, so in order to give myself a chance to get into contention, I’m going to have to play really great golf, but that’s no different than any other week.

“(My game) is OK, I could be playing better. My swing feels really good. My putting stroke has felt pretty good, but it just hasn’t all clicked for me here lately.”

Kirk has made 14 consecutive cuts coming into the Masters, and despite his confidence, he said he knows he still hasn’t seen Augusta National at full strength.

“Even with four inches of rain (Monday), the greens are still faster than I’ve ever seen them before, and I know that will continue to pick up the next few days,” he said. “This place is unbelievable. Any other golf course that got four inches of rain would still be closed the next day, but it played unbelievably great (Tuesday).”

Phil Mickelson said how fast the greens dry out will determine whether Kirk, or any of the other top first-time players — among which are Harris English, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed — will be in the mix come the weekend.

“The last couple of years, the course has not been quite as firm and fast as it has been,” said Mickelson, a three-time Masters winner. “But this year — what I saw (Tuesday) were the greens getting back to what I call Masters speed. If that’s the case, if the course plays firm and fast, I think you are looking at less than a dozen (players in contention).

“But, if it doesn’t, I think you’re looking at almost half the field (having a chance to win).”
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