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There is a ton on the line Sunday at the Sony Open for this four-time PGA Tour winner

January 17, 2021
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Gregory Shamus

Chris Kirk, making his last start on a Major Medical Extension, enters the final round of the 2021 Sony Open in a tie for fourth. He needs a two-way tie for third or better to retain his PGA Tour status for the rest of the 2020-21 season.

Sitting only three shots off Brendan Steele's lead, Chris Kirk has a legitimate chance at a fifth career PGA Tour victory when he tees off on Sunday at the Sony Open. However, the 35-year-old can secure something arguably just as important without winning at Waialae: full PGA Tour status.

Kirk, who is currently in a tie for fourth thanks to three straight 65s in Honolulu, is playing in the final start of his Major Medical Extension. The Tennessee native took a leave of absence from golf in November 2019, citing issues with depression and alcoholism. Thirteen months later, he won the King & Bear Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour, his first professional victory in more than five years.

The former All-American at the University of Georgia has yet to have similar success on the PGA Tour, having made nine starts since his KFT victory but posted just one top-20 finish. That meant Kirk needed a very good week at Waialae to either retain his PGA Tour card or earn conditional PGA Tour status.

To be exact, Kirk needs 148.934 FedEx Cup points to keep his full card, or just 61.387 for conditional status, per Rob Bolton, the PGA Tour's fantasy insider:

As Bolton points out, Kirk can retain his card by finishing in a two-way tie for third or better. A three-way tie for third, solo fourth, or anything in between fifth and 12th would not be enough. Should he go backwards, a two-way tie for 12th is the worst he can do to still earn conditional status. Bolton later noted that if Kirk does fall outside the top 12, he’d drop into the “Beyond 150 Reshuffle” as a former tour winner, which includes past champions and veteran members. That’s “as low as he can go as a member,” according to Bolton.

If that does happen, Kirk would still be eligible to qualify for the 2021 FedEx Cup Playoffs, though he’d need to make up a lot of ground in a limited amount of starts in order to get there. Coming into the week, he ranked 134th in the FedEx Cup race. If the tournament ended right now, with him at T-4, Kirk would vault into 84th.

Should he go on to win, it’d be his first PGA Tour win since 2015 at Colonial. With tee times moved up due to the forecast in Hawaii, Kirk will begin his final round alongside Stewart Cink and Keith Mitchell at 10 a.m. local, 3 p.m. ET.