ORLANDO – The big names made their move early Saturday afternoon at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Then Kevin Kisner made his. Now he’s hoping to keep his foot on the gas and honor Arnie with his second career PGA Tour win.
Kisner shot 4-under 68 in Round 3, moving to 11 under and taking advantage of perfect conditions at Bay Hill. And thanks to a tough-luck 2015, which saw him lose three playoffs, he knows what it takes to get it done against those big names.
“I’ve lost plenty of playoffs out here, so I try to make as many birdies as I can so I don’t have to do that anymore,” Kisner said, with a smile. “These guys are not afraid and they’re going to make a lot of birdies and there’s no protecting leads. I saw I got the lead early and then just tried to make as many birdies as I could on the back nine.”
Kisner had four birdies on the front and two on the back, but a bogey on 18 has him tied for the lead at 11 under alongside Charley Hoffman, three shots ahead of Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Marc Leishman. Both Kisner and Hoffman know how much a win at this event would mean this year.
“Week-in and week-out you’re trying to win, but to be in position at Arnie’s event is a special spot,” Hoffman said. “It’s right up there with competing in a major championship, there’s no question. … To keep his legacy going and win his event would be something special. Coming down the stretch, I’m probably not going to think about that too much. I’m just trying to win a golf tournament, to be completely honest. But if I happen to, it would definitely be a special one to put on the mantle.
Said Kisner: “If I (do) win, I’d sure wish he was here to have a drink with him afterwards. That’s for sure. It would be a pretty unbelievable thing to have on my resume.”
Hoffman, the overnight leader entering the weekend, made birdie on No. 18 to finish with a 1-under 71 on a day which featured several low rounds from some of the usual suspects.
Rickie Fowler had one heck of a morning after beginning with a double bogey at No. 3, which put him at 4 over for the week. A furious finish resulted in a 7-under 65 and moved Fowler to 5 under for the tournament. Rory McIlroy matched Fowler’s 65 soon after and sits T-8 at 6 under.
“Today presented us with an opportunity to go low,” McIlroy said. “Not much wind, warmer. The golf course played a little bit shorter as well, you could take advantage of the par 5s. And I just played better. I gave myself a lot of looks and holed some putts, which was nice to see. It’s sort of a score that I was waiting on. I felt like it was in there, it was just a matter of trying to put it all together and today I did.”
Kisner is capable of going as low as anyone, something he proved by shooting 60 during Round 3 at the Sony Open in January. He was just shy of a 59, missing a 9-foot putt on No. 9, but he won’t need to post a number quite so impressive to take home the title this week. Not after the position he put himself in Saturday and over the last few months, about a year-and-a-half after securing his first win on Tour at the RSM Classic in 2015.
“Our goal was to start peaking about this time for Augusta,” Kisner said. “In the end of last year I was just worn out. Played too much, too much grind. Two Tour Championships in a row, a ton of golf. I needed a break. And then we reset our game plan. I told my caddie at Honda, ‘In about a month I think I’m going to be able to do this on the golf course.’ I hit some shots working on the things I’ve been working on today, and that was cool to see under the gun.”
He’ll be under the gun Sunday as well, but at least he knows what to expect. And there’s not much to fear when you’ve been on the wrong end of too many several sudden-death playoffs.
“I’m not too scared,” Kisner said. “There’s a lot of other things I could be doing that would be way worse than to have the lead at Arnold Palmer’s tournament. … I’ll try my best and hopefully not be in a playoff.”