Kevin Kisner will have a chance Sunday to win his first major championship a couple hours from his home on a course he knows well.
The Aiken native and resident shot a 1-over 72 in Saturday’s third round and holds a one-shot lead at 7-over 206 over Hideki Matsuyama and Chris Stroud in the 99th PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club .
Much of Kisner’s family is from Charlotte, and he has played Quail Hollow for years as his brother-in-law's father, C.P. Street, is a charter member of the club.
Justin Thomas and Louis Oosthuizen are tied for fourth at 5-under 208, Grayson Murray of Raleigh, N.C., is sixth at 3 under and five players are tied for seventh at 2-under 211 including Patrick Reed.
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Kisner has maintained his signature stern demeanor throughout the week, but that could change late Sunday.
“I'll show plenty of emotion if I win tomorrow, don't worry,” Kisner said. “It's a dream to win a major. That's what I grew up practicing and playing for, to play on the PGA Tour and to have a chance in major championships. The way my game's progressed over my career, I like where I am, and I like having a chance tomorrow. It will be awesome to take home the Wanamaker Trophy. There are a lot of great names on that trophy.”
Matsuyama, who won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday with a closing 61, shot a 2-over 73 Saturday.
“I'm disappointed the way I played today,” Matsuyama said through his interpreter. “However, I'm happy to just to be one stroke back and still have a chance and looking forward to tomorrow.
“Probably the pressure had something to do with it, being in the last group of a major tournament. But I haven't been spot on all week, and the worries that I had about my swing showed up today in the way I played.”
Matsuyama is trying to become the first major champion from Japan. He shares the top finish in a PGA Championship by a Japanese player with a tie for fourth last year to match Isao Aoki and Shingo Katayama.
Matsuyama and Stroud are still riding waves from their wins last week.
Stroud wasn’t even in the field until Sunday night, after he won the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nev., which was for PGA Tour members who didn’t qualify for the Bridgestone Invitational.
He was planning to spend the week either trying to qualify for the PGA Tour FedExCup playoffs at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., or at home in Houston with his family. But the Barracuda win moved him up from 144th to 76th in the FedExCup point standings.
The win is the first on the PGA Tour for Stroud, a 35-year-old Texan who is in his 11th season and has played in 290 tour events.
“To finally get a win is really magical. I'm still on cloud nine. I'm just enjoying it, smiling the whole way,” Stroud said. “It's just a dream come true to be here, to be up here, talking to [the media] at the PGA Championship, one of the greatest tournaments in the world. You know, I've been waiting on this a long time. I didn't think it was going to take me this long but I'm glad I'm here.”
He’s now trying to go back-to-back and make his second career win a major championship.
“If I can sharpen up a little bit and make a few more putts, give myself a few more opportunities and just stay calm, I think I've got a chance tomorrow,” Stroud said.
Stroud made four birdies and four bogeys Saturday, though two of his bogeys came on the final two holes after he tied for the lead. He lipped out an 8-foot par putt on 17 and three-putted from 40 feet on 18.
It’s a dream to win a major. That’s what I grew up practicing and playing for, to play on the PGA Tour and to have a chance in major championships. The way my game has progressed over my career, I like where I am, and I like having a chance tomorrow. It will be awesome to take home the Wanamaker Trophy. There are a lot of great names on that trophy.
Kisner played nearly mistake-free golf through 15 holes and held a two-shot lead at 10-under par before hitting his approach on the 16th hole from 220 yards in the rough into water to the left of the green. He lipped out a 30-foot bogey putt to make double and fall back into a tie for the lead with Stroud.
“It feels easy until you snipe one in the water, then it feels hard again,” Kisner said. “The golf course is challenging and that’s what major championships are all about.”
Kisner played most of the round according to plan. He birdied three of the four holes he has identified as his birdie holes on the course – the par-5 seventh, short par-4 14th and par-5 15th – with a wedge to 4 feet, two-putt from 100 feet and two-putt from 22 feet.
But Kisner also bogeyed the 18th hole after his approach shot bounced off rocks to the left of the green, and his only other hiccup in the round came off a drive into rough on the 12th. He came up short of the green with his approach and barely missed an 11-foot par putt.
“I had a chance to run away from guys and take people out of the tournament that were four, five or six back, and I didn't do it,” Kisner said. “Now I'm in a dogfight tomorrow and I have to be prepared for that.”
Jason Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner, was in contention until he collapsed on the final two holes.
He birdied holes 14, 15 and 16 to claw his way back into contention at 5 under after falling 4-over par for his round.
The three-hole run began when Day took off his right shoe and sock and rolled up his pantleg to stand in the water hazard to the left of the 14th green and hit a chip in deep rough to 10 feet. He ended the run with a 42-foot bomb on 16.
But he gave one back on the 17th with a poor chip, and made a mess of the 18th hole with a drive into trees and second shot into bushes that required a drop. Day made a quadruple-bogey 8 to drop all the way to even par and into a tie for 16th, seven shots off the lead.
“I didn’t even know what he made. I wasn’t keeping his score,” said Kisner, Day’s playing partner along with Matsuyama. “…It’s unfortunate. He played good coming in and then gave it all away, so that’s tough.”