Kirk's comeback, Vu's breakthrough, LIV's season kickoff and more from the golf world

Kirk won his first PGA Tour victory since the 2015 Charles Schwab Challenge. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

With the Honda Classic sandwiched between four of the PGA Tour's biggest events, it's no wonder its leaderboard was lacking in star power this past weekend.

Many of the tour's most recognizable names played in back-to-back events at the WM Phoenix Open and the Genesis Invitational, and they'll do the same at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players in the next two weeks.

Even without Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm and other stars in the field, the Honda Classic provided golf fans with some drama, as Chris Kirk defeated Eric Cole in a playoff to win for the first time in nearly eight years.

The LIV Golf League's season opener in Mexico also had an unexpectedly nondescript leaderboard. Charles Howell III, who made a lot of money while rarely winning on the PGA Tour, ran away with a 4-shot victory to pick up his first LIV Golf victory. Peter Uihlein was second and Branden Grace was third.

While reigning Open Championship winner Cameron Smith finished sixth, many of LIV Golf's biggest stars such as Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson all finished outside the top 25 in the 48-player field.

The LPGA Tour was also back on the course this past weekend, a month after its season opener, and Lilia Vu became a first-time winner with a 1-stroke win at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

Here's what else happened in professional golf this past week:

What happened on the PGA Tour

The Honda Classic
Winner: Chris Kirk
How he won: Holding a 1-stroke lead over PGA Tour rookie Eric Cole on the 72nd hole, Kirk nearly blew it when his approach shot bounced off a rock wall and into the water. Cole finally showed some nerves when he blasted his chip shot past the pin, leading to a par. Kirk was able to recover for a bogey, forcing a playoff with both players tied at 14 under. After Kirk's tee shot on the first playoff hole bounced behind a tree, he punched out and nearly holed out on his third shot. Cole hit his second shot into a greenside bunker and then his 10-footer for birdie lipped out. Kirk tapped in for his first PGA Tour victory since winning the 2015 Charles Schwab Challenge.

What happened on the LPGA Tour

Honda LPGA Thailand
Winner: Lilia Vu
How she won: Trailing Thailand's Natthakritta Vongtaveelap by 6 shots entering Sunday's final round, Vu carded an 8-under 64 to finish at 22 under, 1 stroke better than Vongtaveelap. After finishing tied for third or better in three starts last season, Vu claimed her first LPGA victory with a bogey-free round. Vu, a former UCLA star, had two birdies in her first three holes and then had five straight on holes 8-12. She took the lead with another birdie on the par-4 15th. Vu hit 11 of 14 fairways, 11 greens and needed just 21 putts.

"Today I basically just blacked out and tried to birdie every single hole," Vu said. "If I didn't, just move on and try again. Got into the scoring tent and didn't know what I shot."

What happened in the LIV Golf League

LIV Mayakoba
Winner: Charles Howell III
How he won: Howell, who won three times in 609 starts on the PGA Tour, picked up his first individual victory in his sixth start in the LIV Golf League on Sunday. Howell had seven birdies through the first 10 holes while carding a bogey-free, 8-under 63 to finish 16 under and win by 4 strokes over Peter Uihlein. Howell, who won more than $42 million while playing on the PGA Tour, picked up another $4 million for the individual title. His Crushers GC squad, captained by Bryson DeChambeau, won the team competition and will pocket another $3 million. The Crushers, which also includes Paul Casey and Anirban Lahiri, finished at 26 under, 9 shots better than defending team champion 4Aces GC. Defending LIV individual champion Dustin Johnson, the 4Aces captain, finished 37th at 4 over.

Kirk's comeback

It was less than four years ago, in May 2019, that Kirk took an extended leave of absence from the PGA Tour to focus on his mental health. At the time, Kirk said he had been dealing with alcoholism, anxiety and depression for quite a while. He made the announcement the day before his 34th birthday.

The four-time PGA Tour winner didn't return to competition for more than six months. Kirk said he has been sober ever since.

"I owe everything that I have in my entire life to my sobriety," Kirk said Sunday. "I wouldn't be doing this for a living anymore. I probably wouldn't have the family that I have currently anymore. I came really close to losing everything that I cared about.

"For that to have happened and worked out for me, obviously there [were] some decisions that I made, but mostly the grace of God and a lot of other people that really helped me along the way. But yeah, it's something that's constantly on my mind, so it's pretty easy for me to see that winning the Honda Classic is kind of a bonus when literally every good thing I have in my life I owe to that."

It was Kirk's first victory in seven years, nine months and two days. He made 179 starts between his last two wins. Kirk had been playing good golf this year. He finished solo third at the Sony Open in Hawaii and tied for third at the American Express.

"I couldn't beat the guy in college," said Brian Harman, one of Kirk's teammates at Georgia. "He has had a truly underrated career on the tour. To come back from what he struggled with and to climb the ladder again is a perfect representation of his resiliency and grit."

With his latest victory, Kirk moved to No. 32 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He also earned an invitation to the Masters in April.

"I'm not going to lie to you," Kirk said. "I came into this week at 47th in the World Golf Ranking, and that's usually not something I care a whole lot about, but I have not played the Masters since 2016, I think, and growing up in Georgia, that kind of means everything to me. So, I've been watching that World Ranking closely, trying to stay in the top 50.

"But to take care of it this week, that's going to be something that's incredibly special. Last time I played, my two older sons, Sawyer and Foster, were maybe 2, just turned 2, and like 4 months old. Now to be able to go back, they'll be 11 and 9, and then Wilder, my third son, will be 5. That par-3 contest can't come soon enough. I'm really looking forward to that. The whole week, but just to be able to make those memories with my wife and my kids will be awesome."

Vu's breakthrough

Vu was one of the most heralded players to ever come out of UCLA. She was a three-time All-American, Pac-12 Player of the Year and won eight times in college, more than any other player in school history. But after turning pro in 2019, she made just one cut in nine LPGA Tour starts and lost her card.

"I was in a really negative mindset, even my rookie year out here," Vu told reporters in Thailand on Sunday. "I didn't feel like I belonged. Felt like every shot was life or death. I would look at the ball and set up and wouldn't know where I was going to go because I was so nervous."

Vu played on the Symetra Tour (now the Epson Tour) in 2021 and made 15 of 18 cuts. She had 10 top-10 finishes, including three victories. She finished first in points and was the tour's player of the year. She credits her late grandfather for helping her turn things around.

"I remember we were in Florida at one of the Florida Symetra events and we were flying home," Vu said. "I visited my grandpa before we even flew out and it seemed like he was doing really well. He was going to get released from the hospital. It was like the night before I left he told me in Vietnamese, 'Go play well. Do your best.'"

Her grandfather passed away a short time later.

"It just really hit me that I was in a bad spot with my golf, and the last thing he ever said to me was, 'Play well,'" Vu said. "Like out of all the things, he's like struggling and he was thinking of me. I think that's what I think about every day."

Best of the week

Best drive

Johnny Vegas crushed it.

Best tee shot

It's gotta be Pat Perez's hair.

Best approach

Same guy. Same shot. No windshield.

Best chip

"Dr. Chipinsky" delivering under pressure.

Best sand shot

Tyler Duncan's birdie helped him finish third, his first top-10 finish on tour since winning the 2019 RSM Classic.

Best putt

Cole, a PGA Tour rookie, showed plenty of composure playing in the final group for the first time Sunday. He has good genes; he is the son of former PGA Tour pro Bobby Cole and LPGA Rookie of the Year Laura Baugh.

Best celebration

At least it's only water.

Best social media

No kidding.

That's some dedication.

Is this NASCAR or golf? Somehow, Bryson DeChambeau failed to mention the Range Goats.

"A varmint will never quit -- ever. They're like the Viet Cong -- Varmint Cong. So you have to fall back on superior intelligence and superior firepower. And that's all she wrote."

It's a boy! And a girl!

Welcome to the jungle.