Chipping in for birdies on back-to-back holes and grabbing a share of the lead at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit on Friday, Chris Kirk showed he truly is back.
Kirk, 35, sat out seven months last year while dealing with alcohol abuse and depression.
"I think that I just take all of this a little bit less seriously," Kirk said after a 7-under-par 65 in the second round at Detroit Golf Club moved him atop the leaderboard. "Obviously I want to play well and I want to compete and I want to try to win tournaments, but I don't think this feels as much of life and death as maybe it used to."
Kirk shares the top spot with Webb Simpson, who shot an 8-under 64 on Friday. Both players are at 12-under 132 at the tournament's midway point.
Matthew Wolff (second-round 64), Ryan Armour (64), Richy Werenski (66), Mark Hubbard (66), Bryson DeChambeau (67) and Ireland's Seamus Power (66) are tied for third place at 11 under.
Kirk, the owner of four PGA Tour victories and once the 16th-ranked player in the world, returned to action in November, tying for 33rd at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. He then missed five consecutive cuts before the tour was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When play resumed, he tied for 60th at the Charles Schwab Challenge. Two weeks ago, he played the King Bear Classic on the second-tier Korn Ferry Tour and rallied for a victory in the final round.
That gave him momentum heading into Thursday.
"I think I'm slowly getting there," Kirk said. "Am I at the comfort level that I was five years ago? Probably not, but as far as my life in general is concerned, I'm probably at an all-time high comfort-wise. I think a lot of that carries over to my golf game and how I feel on the golf course."
That feeling showed early on the back nine Friday. On the 11th hole, Kirk knocked in a 35-yard shot from a greenside bunker, and he holed a 26-yard chip shot from the greenside rough on the 12th hole.
"You know, I ended up in both of those spots from probably being a little bit too aggressive on my approach shots, but that's the mentality I definitely take when I'm playing well, " he said. "That's when I want to put the pedal down a little bit more and maybe fire at a little bit more pins."
Kirk had opened his day with a 6-under 30 on the front nine. He made his lone bogey of the day at No. 18, losing a chance to hold the lead on his own.
Simpson's round featured eight birdies and no bogeys.
DeChambeau, who opened with a 66 on Thursday, was bogey-free in his second round thanks to executing on several difficult up-and-downs from off the green.
"Coming off with a clean card today makes me feel really good," he said. "If I can make birdie on all the par 5s on the weekend, that's 8 under right there. Make a couple birdies on some short par 4s, I feel like that would be a good number, something like that."
Wolff reached 12 under before a bogey on his second to last hole of the day. He reeled off six consecutive birdies during his round, tying the longest streak of his career previously set during his victory at last year's 3M Open.
It marks a big turnaround for the 21-year-old after he missed two cuts since the PGA Tour resumed play last month. He hasn't posted a top-20 result since the limited-field Tournament of Champions in January.
"I really think it was the mindset that helped me, just being free and not worrying about the outcome and keeping it simple," he said. "It feels like I've always kind of been on that nine on the Friday, on the final nine worrying about the cut and it was nice coming down the stretch not worrying about that."
Kevin Kisner, who holed out for eagle from 162 yards on the sixth hole and shot a 3-under 69, is two shots off the lead at 10 under along with Austria's Sepp Straka (66).
NOTES: Among those who missed the cut were former Masters champions Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson, both at 2 under for the tournament. ... Defending champion Nate Lashley missed the cut by one stroke, ending up at 4 under. ... Talor Gooch withdrew due to a back injury following an opening-round 76. He joined Wyndham Clark, who withdrew on Thursday due to a similar ailment.
--Field Level Media