Chris Kirk rides hot putter to first-round 63 and the lead at the RSM Classic
Sea Island Golf Club, host of this week's RSM Classic, is the home course of a large group of tour pros that reside on St. Simons Island in Georgia. It's safe to say it's a "home game" for most of them, but no resident has taken advantage of the local knowledge in his career quite like Chris Kirk, who earned his second PGA Tour victory at the RSM Classic in 2013. The following season he finished T-4, and followed it up with a T-18 in 2016.
On Thursday it was more of the same in the Peach state for Kirk, who posted a bogey-free, nine-under 63 that featured seven birdies and an eagle at the par-5 18th on the club's Plantation course. He leads by one over Joel Dahmen.
"I love it (here), I lived here for six-and-a-half years before we moved back to Athens to get closer to our families," the University of Georgia alum said. "It's two golf courses that I really enjoy playing and I know the greens really well and thankfully hit a lot of good shots out there today, and made a few putts too."
Kirk, 32, needed just 23 putts for his 63, the second lowest round of his career. He also led the field in putts per green in regulation, averaging 1.35.
"I hit a lot of really nice putts, which was a little bit of a surprise," he said. "It's just nice to see them going in. That's kind of been what I've struggled with the last year or so."
His trouble on the greens explains why Kirk finished inside the top 10 just six times total in 2016 and 2017, after racking up three victories the previous two seasons, including two in 2014 when he ranked 22nd on tour in strokes gained: putting. In 2017, He ranked 125th in that same category, and hadn't shown much improvement in his first three events of 2018, ranking 143rd.
"This was the first time in awhile where it doesn't feel forced," he said. "I'm just kind of looking at it, lining it up and whack it. That's where we all aspire to be, but it's nice to have that feeling for a change."
Dahmen, who also opened his week on the Plantation course, carded a bogey-free eight-under 64, the low round of his career on the PGA Tour. After a rookie season that saw him make just seven of 16 cuts in 2016-2017, Dahmen is off to a respectable start this season, making two of four cuts and finishing T-23 at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.
Three players sit at seven under, including another St. Simons Island resident and University of Georgia alum, Hudson Swafford. He's coming off his breakthrough season on the PGA Tour, one that included his first victory last January at the CareerBuilder Challenge, four top 10s and six top 25s. Swafford is tied for third with Brian Gay and Jason Kokrak.
Back at home and fresh off his first PGA Tour victory, Patton Kizzire opened with a four-under 66 on Sea Island's Seaside course. He sits five shots off the lead, one stroke ahead of Brian Harman, Kevin Kisner and Brandt Snedeker, who is making his first start since being sidelined with a rare rib injury last June.