Kirk holds on for maiden victory

PGA Tour rookie Chris Kirk has hung on to his overnight lead to claim his first professional win at the Viking Classic.

US PGA Tour rookie Chris Kirk has hung on to his overnight lead to claim his first professional win at the Viking Classic in Madison, Mississippi.

The 26-year-old American finished strongly to regain the lead with birdies at the 15th and 17th holes, his closing 4-under-par 68 taking his total to a hefty 22-under par and securing him his maiden victory by a shot.

Tom Pernice (67) and George McNeill (68) finished tied for second at 21-under while a further three, fellow Americans, Bud Cauley (67) and Hunter Haas and Jim Renner, who both posted 68s, were a further shot behind on 20-under

The highest placed foreign golfer was South Korea’s Kang Sung-hoon (70), who finished tied for seventh after briefly holding a share of the lead.

Kirk led the tournament by a shot heading into the final round, but with the Annandale Golf Club’s soft greens making birdies easy to find, he was under immediate pressure and, on a day of see-sawing changes on top of the leaderboard, did not edge clear again until the penultimate hole.

Kirk, who earned his PGA Tour card by finishing second on the Nationwide Tour money list last year, went out in 35 then made two early birdies on the back nine before a bogey on 14.

He steadied himself with a birdie at the par-3 15th before regaining the outright lead on the par-4 17th when he hit his approach over the water to within five feet of the hole for a simple birdie putt.

“It was 140 yards and it was a 9-iron,” Kirk said. “So I was aiming right at the pin and nowhere else. That was my only thought.”

Kirk is the fifth rookie to win on the Tour this year, joining Jhonnatan Vegas, Brendan Steele, Keegan Bradley and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.

Pernice, who normally plays on the Seniors Tour, missed a birdie putt on the final hole that would have taken him into a playoff and given the 51-year-old the chance to become the second oldest winner on the PGA Tour.

Sam Snead was 52 when he won the Greater Greensboro Open in 1965. The only other player over 50 to have won a PGA Tour title was Fred Funk in 2007.

“I just needed to make a good firm stroke, maybe just outside the right edge and all that good stuff. But it looked like I pulled it,” Pernice said.

Top 10 leaderboard

266 Chris Kirk (US) 67 67 64 68

267 Tom Pernice Jr. (US) 66 67 67 67, George McNeill (US) 67 65 67 68

268 Bud Cauley (US) 68 67 66 67, Hunter Haas (US) 66 64 70 68, Jim Renner (US) 69 69 62 68

269 Tommy Gainey (US) 67 67 67 68, Kang Sung-Hoon (South Korea) 65 70 64 70

270 Shane Bertsch (US) 68 68 67 67, Blake Adams (US) 72 62 67 69, Peter Lonard (Australia) 65 65 69 71, D.J. Trahan (US) 68 65 66 71