ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Kevin Kisner has a score in mind that he hopes will be enough to win the RSM Classic.
This time, everyone has to catch him.
The hard-luck player on the PGA Tour this year, Kisner pulled away Saturday afternoon with three shots that all led to birdies - a tough tee shot on the 16th, a 6-iron that nearly went in for an ace on the par-3 17th and a 30-foot putt on the 18th. That gave him a 6-under 64 and a three-shot lead over Kevin Chappell.
Already a runner-up four times this year - three of them in playoffs - Kisner has never had a better chance than now.
''What I've learned is you just can't hold back on this Tour,'' Kisner said. ''Any time you think you're doing great, somebody else is, too. I'm just going to try to keep making birdies. I'll put a number of 20, 21 (under) in my head and see if they can catch that one.''
Closing with three straight birdies not only gave Kisner the lead, he set the 54-hole record at Sea Island at 16-under 196.
Kevin Chappell, tied for the lead when he made birdie on the par-5 15th, closed with three pars for a 68.
Graeme McDowell had a 65 - that's 64 strokes with his clubs and one mental blunder. McDowell has spent so much time in soggy conditions that allowed for preferred lies that when he got to his ball in the first fairway, he instinctively reached for a tee to mark his ball, picked up and quickly realized there was a problem.
Lift, clean and place was not allowed Saturday. That's a one-shot penalty.
''I literally just got into automatic pilot mode in the first fairway,'' he said. ''Before I realized that, Michael Kim is looking at me funny. I'm like, 'OK, I just picked this ball up.' What an idiot.''
And what a recovery.
He hit wedge into 10 feet and made the putt - for par, not birdie - which helped clear his head. McDowell made a few key par saves, poured in five birdies and wound up with a 65 to get within four shots of the lead. Coming off his playoff win in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba on Monday in Mexico, McDowell feels like he's playing with house money.
''That would be special,'' he said of a chance to end his year with back-to-back wins.
Kisner really hasn't done much wrong in any of his close calls.
He was three shots behind going into the final round at Hilton Head, closed with a 64 to get into a playoff, birdied the first extra hole and lost on Jim Furyk's birdie on the second playoff hole. He was one behind at The Players Championship, closed with a 69 and matched Rickie Fowler shot-for-shot in the three-hole playoff. He just couldn't match Fowler's third birdie on the island-green 17th and lost in sudden death.
He was four behind at The Greenbrier, closed with a 64 and lost in a four-man playoff. And two weeks ago in Shanghai, he was tied for the lead with Russell Knox and closed with a 2-under 70 to finish two shots behind Knox.
What he gained in all those losses was a small measure of belief that he was doing most everything right, and that someone else simply was better.
This time, he is equipped with a lead and brings the experience of coping with nerves.
''Just getting more and more comfortable in that situation,'' Kisner said. ''In China I was feeling as good as ever in that position. Hopefully, that's how it is tomorrow. Hopefully, the weather is pretty good for us and I just keep playing the way I'm playing.''
Chappell, winless in his 142 previous starts on the PGA Tour, has been in weekend contention three times in the last four years at Sea Island, though he has slipped in the third round. He thought that might be the case again Saturday when he three-putted from 60 feet for bogey on the second hole, and then missed the green left on the par-3 third hole and missed a 10-foot par putt.
He steadied himself with five birdies the rest of the way and is within striking distance of his first win.
''I couldn't be happier with the way I bounced back and handled a little adversity early in the round,'' Chappell said. ''Just really fought hard and tried to give myself as many opportunities as I could. Made some birdies, which was nice. Didn't play my way out of it, which looked like I could early in the round.''
Alex Cejka had his third straight 67 and at 11-under 201 was the only other player within five shots of Kisner.
DIVOTS: Kyle Reifers also was guilty of picking up his ball in the fairway thinking conditions were lift, clean and place. The difference? Reifers did it on his ninth hole of the day. ... Fifteen players missed the 54-hole cut, including British Open champion Zach Johnson. ... Tournament host Davis Love III shot a 69 and was 13 shots behind.