Kisner fights instinct, sticks to game plan at PGA

By Rex HoggardAugust 11, 2017, 8:45 pm

Updated, 7:45 p.m. ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Kevin Kisner is a statistical anomaly, a ShotLink unicorn who for two rounds has defied all that we thought we knew about the new and improved Quail Hollow Club.

At 5-foot-10, 165 pounds he’s done what the hard swinging likes of Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson could not – post consecutive rounds in the 60s and move into a share of the lead with Hideki Matsuyama at the PGA Championship.

The PGA Quail Hollow was supposed to be a bomber’s utopia where the game’s biggest and brightest would have an overwhelming advantage.

Kisner had other plans.

The 127th-longest driver on the PGA Tour, that’s out of 202 players for those keeping track, made the two-hour drive from his home in South Carolina to Quail Hollow last month for a scouting trip and came away with a common impression.

“It was raining and wet, and I said, ‘Man, this place is going to be so long; I don't know how they are going to compete,’” he said on Friday following his second-consecutive 67.

Turns out there is a plan for Kisner to play the sprawling North Carolina gem; it just took a little research and a monsoon of patience – which has not always been among the 33-year-old’s strengths.


PGA Championship: Scores | Live blog: Day 2 | Full coverage


Because of Quail Hollow’s length – roughly 7,600 yards the first two days – and a new set of Bermuda grass greens that McIlroy opined automatically made the layout at least two strokes more difficult than when it usually hosts the Wells Fargo Championship in May, Kisner figured he had four legitimate birdie holes – Nos. 7, 8, 14 and 15.

“Those are my holes to score well. If I play them 3 under in the next two days, take that,” he said with a dash of southern simplicity.

On Thursday he added birdies at Nos. 6 and 18, to take a share of the Day 1 lead; and on Friday he made an eagle at the par-5 seventh.

But lack of length is not what makes Kisner the ultimate statistical outlier this week; although it’s worth pointing out he’s had five drives of 300 yards or more thus far.

Where the son of Aiken, S.C., broke the mold is what he’s done with an iron (normally of the mid- to long-iron variety) in his hand. Kisner leads the field in greens in regulation, going 30-for-36 through two rounds, despite having an average approach shot of 186 yards.

“It speaks to how well he’s hitting it,” figured Kisner’s swing coach, John Tillery.

At least part of that proficiency is a credit to Kisner’s driving accuracy – 21 of 28 fairways hit – but mostly it’s been his ability to temper an admittedly aggressive instinct.

“We talked about it and there are holes where he needs to aim away from the flag when he’s got a 6-iron in his hand,” Tillery said. “It used to just drive him crazy to do that, but it’s been a big attitude change at the majors.”

There will be those who will wonder if Kisner has the staying power to finish off a major, even after such a strong start. In 11 previous major appearances his best finish is a tie for 18th at the 2016 PGA, a run of events that includes a tie for 58th earlier this year at the U.S. Open.

But it was at Erin Hills where the seeds of his new subtle approach took hold. It was following a third-round 76 that Tillery and Kisner’s caddie, Duane “Dewey” Bock, addressed what could best be described as competitive overzealousness.

“We talked about his mind set, he was in good form but wasn’t playing well,” Tillery said. “If anything he tends to be too aggressive, so a course like [Quail Hollow] forces him to dial it back.”

For Kisner, that means picking your birdie holes and avoiding the kind of miscues that separate majors from your run-of-the-mill events, even if that means aiming 30 feet away from the hole.

There’s also something to be said for Kisner’s ability at overcoming the obvious at Quail Hollow. This is where bombers come to play, nearly 4 and ½ miles of winding rough and rugged edges, particularly after a wet summer.

Kisner could have lamented his fate, grumbled about course set up and 524-yard par 4s, but instead he devised a plan and for two days has executed that blueprint to perfection.

“In years past, he probably would have been that way and we wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in,” Tillery said. “He’s matured a ton.”

Call it maturity, call it a major mentality, for Kisner he knows this is the way you win major championships and after a lifetime of professional trial and error he’s ready to take that next step.

“I've been upset with how I've played in the majors so far in my career. I feel like I have the game to compete in majors and tons of 30th- to 40th-, 50th-place finishes,” he said. “That's kind of been our goal for the year. We haven't played well in them yet this year but every year you learn more about the majors and how to approach them.”

After two days we’ve all learned, thanks to Kisner’s performance, that what we thought we knew about statistics can be wildly misleading.

Getty Images

TT postscript: Tiger (E) survives difficult day

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 6:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Here are some observations after watching Tiger Woods’ even-par 70 in the first round of the Honda Classic:

• Whew, that was tough. Like, by far the most difficult conditions Woods has faced this year. The wind blew about 20 mph all day, from different directions, and that affected every part of the game, especially putting.

• And though the stats aren’t necessarily pretty – half the fairways hit, just 10 greens – this was BY FAR his best ball-striking round of the new year. He even said so himself. When he walked off the course, he was just four off the lead.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


• Woods had only one bad hole Thursday. It came on the par-5 third hole, his 12th of the day. He blew his driver into the right bunker. He had to lay way back, to clear the lip of the bunker. And then he tugged his third shot just barely in the greenside trap. And then his bunker shot didn’t get onto the green. Then he chipped on and missed a 4-footer. A truly ugly double bogey.

• The driver is still a concern – he found the fairway only once in five attempts. But only one of those misses was way off-line. That came on the 12th, when he double-crossed one way left.

• Though the driver is uncooperative, he has showed a lot of improvement with his 3-wood. The four times he used it, he controlled the ball flight beautifully and hit it 300-plus. His 2-iron is making a comeback, too, in a big way.



• After this round, he should have a little wiggle room Friday to make the cut, barring a blowup round. It’s playing tough, and the 36-hole cut should be over par. Tiger needs four rounds of competitive reps. If he plays like this Friday, he’ll get them. 

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 5:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


Getty Images

Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.


Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters


Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

Getty Images

Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).