(Reuters) - Eleven months ago, Chris Kirk clinched The McGladrey Classic by one shot, setting the tone for a landmark PGA Tour campaign highlighted by two tournament wins and a lofty second place in the final FedExCup standings.
That career-best season is now behind him and the American is back in Georgia this week to defend his McGladrey Classic title at Sea Island with his sights set on at least maintaining the high level of play he produced on the 2013-14 PGA Tour.
“Winning (The McGladrey Classic) last year was a huge boost for me,” former Sea Island resident Kirk told reporters on Wednesday while preparing for Thursday’s opening round in the tournament hosted by Davis Love III on the Seaside Course.
“I was coming off a pretty solid season the year before that but just didn’t quite give myself any legitimate chances to win a tournament.
“So to put myself in that position, especially here at Sea Island, a place that is so important to me ... was pretty amazing and then I was able to keep the momentum for most of the season after that.”
Kirk, who won his maiden PGA Tour title at the 2011 Viking Classic, produced stellar form during the 2013-14 season, recording five top-10s in 28 starts, including victories at the McGladrey and Deutsche Bank Championship.
He finished second in the season-long FedExCup standings and narrowly missed out on securing his place as a rookie on the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team.
As he approaches his first tournament on the 2014-15 PGA Tour, Kirk has a clear idea of how he wants his golfing progress to continue.
“Contending and possibly wining majors is where I’d like to go,” said the 29-year-old from Knoxville, Tennessee. “Just to maintain the level of play I have had over the last year would be a pretty good accomplishment in itself too.
“I really had a great year last year and it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of good breaks to do that.
“So I’m hoping to just play as much good golf as I can and if I can just improve a little bit here and there, my game will translate well and my comfort level in majors will increase.”
Kirk, who clinched the third PGA Tour victory of his career by two shots at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Massachusetts early last month, will play the first two rounds at Sea Island in high-profile company.
He has been grouped with compatriots Ben Martin, who won his maiden PGA Tour title at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Sunday, and tournament host Love, Kirk’s long-time golfing idol.
Also competing this week are 11-time PGA Tour winner and Sea Island resident Zach Johnson, fellow American and world number nine Matt Kuchar and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who has launched the new season with consecutive top-10 finishes.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue