Jeff Shain

‘Weird’ start notwithstanding, Kevin Kisner lurks near Heritage lead

Kevin Kisner has no explanation for Thursday. An out-of-body experience, maybe.

One of the PGA Tour’s most proficient with the putter, Kisner had five three-putts during his opening round around Harbour Town. Five.

“I think I was last in putting after Thursday,” Kisner said of that opening 1-over-par 72. “So there was only one way to go, and that was up.”

And how. With middle rounds of 64-66, Kisner reached sundown Saturday lurking just just two shots off Jason Dufner’s pace, setting up another chance to become the first South Carolina winner of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.

“Right where I need to be,” the Aiken native said with a grin. “If you had told me I was going to be (in this position) early on Thursday, I probably would have laughed at you. I knew I was playing well; I just had to clean it up.”

Even things out Thursday, and Kisner might be pulling away. Friday’s 64 at Harbour Town was two shots better than anyone else posted that day, and Saturday was just one shot behind Dufner’s 65.

Kisner hasn’t made a bogey since Thursday’s round, a streak of 37 consecutive holes outdone only by fellow South Carolinian Wesley Bryan (40).

“The way I’ve been ballstriking the past couple of days, it’s pretty tough to make a bogey,” he said. “If I can keep away from a three-putt, keep it in play, I should be all right.”

But Thursday...

“It was one of the weirder rounds I’ve probably ever played,” Kisner said.

As a point of reference, consider that Kisner had 30 three-putts all of last season, a span of 1,692 holes that left him with the fifth-lowest percentage on the circuit. Two seasons before that, he had just 21 three-putts.

You or I rack up five three-putts in a round. OK, anyone who’s seen my stroke knows I can hit that number well before the turn.

The point is, Kevin Kisner doesn’t three-putt five times in a round.

“I probably hit the ball the same as I have the past two days,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. I’d line up a 20-footer, knock it eight feet by. And the next one I left six feet short. It was weird.”

Adding to the mystery is that Thursday presented optimal scoring conditions. Lots of sunshine, little wind, and Harbour Town greens that may be in the best condition anyone’s ever seen.

Webb Simpson finished his round with five consecutive birdies. Two of the top four on Thursday’s leaderboard birdied both Nos. 17 and 18. The day set a Heritage record for lowest Round 1 scoring average of 70.33.

Kisner went around in 72.

“I just had to work out some kinks,” he said.

Perhaps there was some Masters hangover in play, going from the speedy greens at Augusta National to something flatter and more tempered. “The transition on the speed was terrible,” Kisner said.

Whatever the case, Kisner spent some serious overtime on Harbour Town’s practice green after Thursday’s round.

“I just put some work in,” he said. “That’s all I know how to do. I went and putted for a few hours. I started hitting my lines, and the ball starts going in when I start doing that.”

Kisner got his round going with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 5 and 6, the latter a curling 15-footer. He made another big breaker at the short par-4 ninth. The round fell into a lull on the back nine, but he struck from long distance at No.17 with one measured at 28 1/2 feet.

“That was a nice one to make coming in,” Kisner said.

And now comes the chance to take the reward that eluded him two years ago. Starting the final day three shots behind Troy Merritt, he sizzled around Harbour Town with a 64 – only to be caught by Jim Furyk’s 63 that sent things to a playoff. Furyk won on the second extra hole.

This time, could Kisner’s Sunday end in tartan?

“I hope to get the roars going early,” he said. “I think I need five or six more (birdies) to have a chance, so that’s the goal.

“I’m as confident as I can get. This is a week where you’ve got to put yourself in position, where you know where the ball is going — and feel good over the putter.”

Jeff Shain: 843-706-8123, @jeffshain

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