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Who is this man who crashed the Ryder Cup conversation?

By John Strege

Two days ago, it was inconceivable that Tom Watson could have picked Chris Kirk out of a lineup, certainly not one that included Brandt Snedeker, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and others.

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(Getty Images photo)

“Does Tom Watson know who Chris Kirk is?” Arron Oberholser asked on Twitter Monday afternoon.

Watson, of course, is familiar with Kirk, who was 14th in U.S. Ryder Cup points, though a vivid imagination would have been required to suggest that Kirk was in Watson’s Ryder Cup purview before he elbowed his way in with a victory in the Deutsche Bank Championship on Monday.

Kirk likely received greater scrutiny from a late night comedian than he did from Watson. He was among those PGA Tour players singled out and mocked by Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon for their official tour mugshots.

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“He was voted most likely to say, ‘Enjoy your stay. They all do,’ when handing over your hotel room key,” Fallon said, mimicking a deranged front desk clerk.

It was not a particularly accurate representation. Rather than a wild-eyed look, Kirk appears to play without a pulse, entirely void of emotion, which could explain how even before the Deutsche Bank he had collected more than $3 million this year in virtual anonymity.

But when you are in contention and playing the final round with the No. 1 player in the world, Rory McIlroy, and you shoot 66 and outscore him by four strokes to win for the second time this season, well, even a Ryder Cup captain has to take notice.

Credit Kirk for not nominating himself in the wake of his third PGA Tour victory. “Saying I’ve earned it would be a little entitled,” he said. “If I earned my way I would have finished in the top nine.” He acknowledged only that “I have put myself in contention.”

At the TPC Boston, he showed how good he is in contention, an asset with Ryder Cup pressure. He withstood a couple of challenges, one of them from Geoff Ogilvy, who was playing with house money in more ways than one. Ten days earlier, Ogilvy’s ocean-view tennis estate in Del Mar, Calif., sold for $5.95 million, enabling him to realize a $1.8 million profit from what he paid for the place five years ago. This was in addition to the fact that he never expected to qualify for the Deutsche Bank, before learning he was the last player to qualify.

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But Ogilvy’s bid ended at the 18th hole, when he pulled a six-foot birdie putt that would have made Kirk’s task more problematic. Meanwhile, Billy Horschel needed a birdie to tie at the par-5 18, but hit his 6-iron second shot into the hazard and made bogey.

It gave Kirk a victory and Watson a headache he could not have expected. Even with $4.475 million in earnings, fourth among Americans on the money list, Kirk still might be overlooked by Watson, but he at least has progressed beyond recognition only as the butt of a comedian’s joke.

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