CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As much as Kevin Kisner regretted his stumble down the stretch and the fact he allowed himself to be in what he called “a dogfight” today, he knew it could have been much, much worse. After all, he still is leading the PGA Championship and, more important, he did not do anything close to what Jason Day did.
In what could go down as a classic major meltdown, Day chose to try an impossible shot from behind the tree while playing the final hole in the last group on Saturday. He wound up making a quadruple-bogey 8, dropping to even par, seven shots behind Kisner.
It is probable that Day, now tied for 16th, cost himself a shot in what could be a wild, wide-open finish Sunday in the final round at Quail Hollow Club. Kisner’s lead is only one over two golfers who won tournaments last week, Hideki Matsuyama and Chris Stroud. Justin Thomas and Louis Oosthuizen are each only a stroke behind those two.
“I had a chance to run away from guys and take people out of the tournament who were four, five or six back and I didn’t do it,” Kisner said, after he ended what had been a solid round by making double bogey (with a water ball) on No. 16 and bogey on No. 18. He shot 1-over-par 72. “Now I’m in a dogfight tomorrow and I have to be prepared for that.”
Preparation should start with the knowledge that one swing can cost you the tournament, something Kisner witnessed as he played in the final threesome with Day and Matsuyama. Day had been struggling with left-leaning tee shots through a long round (nearly five hours). On the final hole, he hit right, onto loose straw behind a tree.
Rather than chipping out to the fairway and settling for bogey, Day attempted to sail an iron shot up and around trees, over a cart path. It did not work. His ball landed in an unplayable spot between a section of portable lavatories and bushes. He took a penalty stroke, chopped out and went on to make 8 for a round of 77, about which he declined to speak as he left for the parking lot with his wife Ellie.
“I didn’t even know what he made. I wasn’t keeping his score,” Kisner said. “It’s unfortunate. He played pretty good coming in and then gave it all away, so it’s tough.”
Kisner was not watching Day carefully because he had his own problems. His second shot on 18 caromed high off a stone bridge into thick Bermuda rough. “I was pretty perplexed with what I was going to do with that chip shot,” the leader said. “It was the worst lie I had seen all week, a downhill lie.
“I was just trying to do anything to get it over that creek. I wasn’t too concerned with watching Jason. I was trying to figure out how the heck I could make five and get out of there.”
Bogeys on the final two holes did not faze Stroud, the journeyman who had entered 289 PGA Tour events without a victory until the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada last Sunday. He credits a new attitude, in which he stopped pressuring himself for victories. “Just don’t change anything. Don’t mess up the streak,” he said, describing his mantra. “I’m as relaxed as I’ve ever been.”
Matsuyama, who shot 73, has the chance to become the first Japanese golfer ever to win a men’s major. Last week, he won the prestigious WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a final-round 61. “The worries I had about my swing showed up today in the way I played,” he said through an interpreter.
Everyone on the difficult course had concerns Saturday, some less than others. Kisner, who has lost four playoffs and won two events on tour, said, “The way my game has progressed over my career, I like where I am and I like having a chance tomorrow.”
He realizes it could have been worse.