Chris Kirk overcomes ‘zombie’ feeling, the quietest 68 of the day and another (welcomed) Rickie sighting

Last Sunday, Chris Kirk brought some “emotionless robot” energy into the final round of the Honda Classic, and it served him quite well. He picked up his first PGA Tour victory in nearly eight years, outlasting Eric Cole in a playoff at PGA National.

Obviously, it would be ideal to keep that same energy on Thursday morning at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where Kirk had a quick turnaround being in the first group off Bay Hill’s 10th tee at 7:49 a.m. ET. Problem was, he didn’t have any energy left to give.

“That 5:30 alarm came really early,” Kirk said, adding, “I felt a little bit like a zombie this morning.”

Keep in mind, Kirk was also first off on Monday at the Seminole Pro-Member, where he had a 7:25 a.m. tee time after getting less than four hours of sleep Sunday night. He was so gassed that he took the day off on Tuesday, which would normally be a important prep day for a tournament of this magnitude.

Much like his decision to pass up the Genesis Invitational to prepare for the Honda, that decision proved to be the prudent one. Kirk kept it rolling on Thursday at Bay Hill, overcoming that zombie feeling to shoot a five-under 67 that has him in a tie for second at day’s end. He’s making all the right moves right now.

It helped, too, that this event is an easy one to get up for.

“Can’t really take away from the excitement that I have playing this event every year,” he said. “I talked about it some the last few days, the personal relationship I had with Mr. Palmer, and I just have always loved this golf tournament. He was a big influence and somebody that I really looked up to, and so this tournament is something. Because of that and also because of that I’ve played pretty well here over the years makes it a really special week and a week that I look forward to.”

If not for a bogey at his first and last holes of the day, Kirk could have tied for the lead with Jon Rahm, who continued his torrid stretch with a seven-under 65. As it stands, Kirk is tied with Cameron Young and Kurt Kitayama. On Friday, he’ll go off at 12:39 p.m. at No. 1, which gives him plenty of time to catch up on some much-needed shuteye. He actually may have already gotten a headstart on that.

“After Sunday night, I’ve just tried to sleep as much as I can, get as much rest as I can,” Kirk said. “I’ll be doing some more of that this afternoon.”

The way it’s going for Kirk, we’re guessing the early bedtime will just be another stroke of genius.

The quietest 68 of the day belongs to …

If you have a ESPN+/PGA Tour Live subscription, first of all, good for you! It’s the best isn’t it? Secondly, you probably saw defending champion Scottie Scheffler’s first-round 68, so it wasn’t that quiet. But for the rest of the world that throws on the golf at 2 p.m., Scheffler’s strong start may have gone undetected.

But it deserves some serious love. Right now, everything is Rahm this, Rahm that, for very good reason. Let’s not forget, though, that Scheffler handled him with relative ease just a few weeks ago at the WM Phoenix Open. Not to mention the fact that he’s finished T-12 or better in seven straight events if you include the Hero World Challenge. It’s not quite a Rahm-like stretch, but it’s pretty damn good.

“I kept it in play a lot,” Scheffler said of his opening round. “I think I only had to hit out of the rough maybe one time the whole day. I had to do it a couple times going into greens. But staying out of the rough here is pretty important. I don’t know if you’ve been out on the course yet, but it’s pretty heavy.”

Unfortunately for Scheffler, it’s only going to get tougher on Friday. The reigning Masters champ ended up on the bad side of the draw. He tees off at 12:30 p.m. in the second round, when winds are expected to reach 20 mph.

“We’ll see what happens on these greens. It better not blow too hard or they may need to slow them down or something. I really don’t know what they’re going to do,” Scheffler said.

Scheffler will be happy to know that the grounds crew was out on the course late on Thursday evening and pummeling the greens with water to soften it up as much as possible. The course was already pretty receptive on Thursday morning, too.

“This year with it being a little softer it’s rewarding more good shots off the tee, and then going into the greens it’s still extremely challenging,” he said. “So it’s definitely a challenging place, but like I said earlier, just try and get the ball in play and go from there.”

We’ve played this game one too many times before over the last few years, particularly on Thursdays. But … this time it’s starting to feel different? It feels dangerous to even type that, but Fowler, who grinded out a four-under 68 on Thursday, is feeling that way, too. The swing looks better, the longer putter is working and he’s had some actual form since finishing T-2 at the Zozo Championship in the fall, making five straight cuts since with three top-20 finishes. 

“After the previous three years, [it’s nice] to be in a position where I’m actually building momentum and confidence,” Fowler said. “There was like maybe short spurts of that in the past, but now it just seems to kind of be a little bit of a snowball effect.”

Those short spurts Fowler is referring to usually resulted in what Golf Twitter likes to call the “Full Camilo,” in which a player jumps out to a hot start on Thursday only to come crashing back down to earth Friday to the point he is sweating the cut line. There’s been none of that this year for the former phenom. Save for a second-round 75 at the Genesis Invitational, where he still tied for 20th, Fowler has been uber-consistent, with 21 rounds of 70 or better in the 30 rounds he’s played this year. That may not sound all that impressive, but it is for a guy who couldn’t avoid the odd 77 or 78 for the last few seasons. 

“It’s good,” Fowler said of his confidence level on Thursday. “Especially a day like today where I wasn’t swinging great, I wasn’t driving it well and being able to just kind of get it around and accept what I had. Didn’t try and force anything. It’s also nice to, on top of that, make some putts, which is something that held me back the last few years. So, yeah, just confidence continues to build. Not always going to hit it perfect, but I think you get a lot more out of days when you’re not hitting it well like today and shooting four under. I would much rather see getting a lot out of rounds versus go stripe it and feel like you left so many out there.”

“Leaving a few out there” would be a welcomed problem for Fowler right now. Seeing him near the top of the leaderboard and getting way-too-excited remains a welcomed problem for all of us, too. 


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