PGA CHAM­PI­ONSHIP

ROUND TWO CON­TIN­UES,

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JODIE VALADE The New York Times

A lit­tle more than a two-hour drive south of Charlotte, Kevin Kis­ner owns a house in his home­town, Aiken, S.C., where he can get away from his life on the PGA Tour and all the headaches ma­jor cham­pi­onships have caused him over the years.

He lives close enough that he can reg­u­larly visit his 93-year-old grand­mother in Charlotte. And he is close enough that he can spend plenty of time at Quail Hol­low Club, where his brother-in-law’s fa­ther was a found­ing mem­ber and where he was able to play a prac­tice round about a month ago to learn more about the try­ing course re­design that seems to be vex­ing ev­ery golfer this week at the PGA Cham­pi­onship.

Kis­ner has learned a lot about the course over the years — learned how to nav­i­gate its closing-and-in­tim­i­dat­ing Green Mile, and even learned to love the Ber­muda grass added in the rough this year.

All that knowl­edge is part of what helped him hold the lead through two rounds at the event, the sea­son’s fi­nal ma­jor. His 8-un­der-par to­tal of 134, af­ter a sec­on­dround 67, topped the field along with Hideki Mat­suyama, who shot a 64 on Fri­day.

That is the best po­si­tion Kis­ner has been in through 12 ma­jor cham­pi­onships in his ca­reer. His best pre­vi­ous fin­ish was a tie for 12th at the 2015 U.S. Open.

It might just be that so close to home, he fi­nally feels at home.

“I love to just go home and hang out with my bud­dies in the coun­try,” Kis­ner, 33, said Fri­day. “Go out where there’s no cell­phone ser­vice and spend the af­ter­noon. Love to fish, love to shoot guns, love to hunt; just get away from it. That’s my favourite part.”

His home­town is the kind of place where Kis­ner can re­lax and have fun — some­times too much. A year ago, ac­cord­ing to pub­lished re­ports, he was sus­pended from his home course, Pal­metto Golf Club in Aiken, for rac­ing golf carts — which he filmed in a video for Vice Sports called “Beer, Bets and Golf Cart Races.” He was al­lowed back a cou­ple of weeks later, and even with the hand-slap­ping, Kis­ner has re­mained fiercely loyal to ev­ery­thing about his home.

“I have a core group of friends that we hang out with that don’t pester me about golf, and we hang out and have a cou­ple beers on the back porch,” he said.

His life on the golf course has enough stress. Since join­ing the PGA Tour in 2011, he has had two vic­to­ries — both since 2016. His av­er­age score has steadily im­proved this sea­son, to 70.33 from 71.86, and he is ranked 25th.

Play­ing well in a ma­jor was not some­thing that had hap­pened, though. He has made the cut in eight of 12 ma­jors, but his av­er­age fin­ish is 31.5. This sea­son, he tied for 43rd at the Mas­ters, tied for 58th at the U.S. Open and tied for 54th in the Bri­tish Open.

“I’ve been up­set with how I’ve played in the ma­jors so far in my ca­reer,” Kis­ner said. “I feel like I have the game to com­pete in ma­jors — and tons of 30th- to 40th-, 50th-place fin­ishes. 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.”

So far here he is fi­nally headed squarely to­ward that goal. He ea­gled the par-5, 546-yard No. 7 on Fri­day and birdied Nos. 10, 12 and 15. He hit fair­ways and learned how to play the firmer greens.

“Kis is on fire right now,” Rory McIl­roy ob­served.

Kis­ner posted his score af­ter start­ing in the morn­ing group, and the rest of the field spent the re­main­der of the day chasing af­ter him while try­ing to out­ma­noeu­vre stormy weather. Twice, weather warn­ings were posted, and at 4:43 p.m. Eastern, play was sus­pended be­cause of light­ning and an ap­proach­ing down­pour. Play re­sumed 1 hour, 43 min­utes later.

Mat­suyama, of Ja­pan, matched Kis­ner’s mark as the round wound down, log­ging six birdies — four in a row on his back nine.

Jor­dan Spi­eth, in his quest to com­plete a ca­reer Grand Slam with a win here, fin­ished the day at 3 over and was tee­ter­ing close to the pro­jected cut line, 5 over.

Spi­eth had a dis­as­trous 10th hole, driv­ing into the pine straw right of the fair­way on the par-5 592-yard hole and then striking the ball left of the fair­way into pine straw again. He then hit a tree branch be­fore land­ing just off the green. He es­caped with a bo­gey.

He was not the only player to strug­gle on the re­con­fig­ured course, which has been play­ing three to four strokes higher than pre­vi­ous years when it hosted the Wells Fargo Cham­pi­onship.

“Look, it sur­prised me; this is not the Quail Hol­low we’ve got­ten to know the last 10 years,” said McIl­roy, who is two over. “It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent course.”

Phil Mick­el­son fin­ished the day at 11 over, well out­side the mark for mak­ing the cut in his 100th ma­jor. Ernie Els, also play­ing in his 100th ma­jor, was on pace to miss the cut at 8 over.

“A low round used to be a 61 or a 62,” McIl­roy said. “A low round now is a 66 or a 67.”

CHUCK BUR­TON, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kevin Kis­ner’s se­cret? He’s at home with Charlotte’s Quail Hal­low Club, liv­ing not far from it. He shares the PGA Cham­pi­onship lead af­ter two rounds.

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