Kevin Kisner closes gap on playing competitor, PGA leader Gary Woodland

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Kevin Kisner closes gap on playing competitor, PGA leader Gary Woodland

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Kevin Kisner closes gap on playing competitor, PGA leader Gary Woodland

ST. LOUIS – Gary Woodland and Kevin Kisner might sit 1-2 on the PGA Championship leaderboard midway through Friday’s second round at Bellerive Country Club.

But the similarities don’t stop there.

The two 34-year-olds starred at their respective colleges – Woodland at Kansas, where he won four times, and Kisner at Georgia, where he was a four-time All-American and helped the Bulldogs to a national title. They both grinded for paychecks on the Hooters Tour early in their pro careers, and have lost their PGA Tour cards at least once, each needing either Q-School or the Web.com Tour to regain status.

(Even their kids got sick on Monday of this week.)

They have also each tasted victory on the PGA Tour – Woodland four times, including this year’s Phoenix Open, and Kisner twice – yet neither has won a major championship. Woodland hasn’t cracked the top 10 in 27 career major starts. Kisner has two in 15, both coming in the last calendar year.

That could change this week, where Woodland and Kisner are leading the pack at the 100th edition of the PGA.

Woodland is 10 under after a second-round, 4-under 66 while Kisner is a shot back thanks to a Friday 64 that could’ve been a 62 if not for a three-putt from 57 feet on his 36th hole, the par-4 ninth.

“I think every time that you see guys playing well it kind of drags other guys in the group along,” Kisner said. “… Gary and I are good buddies, had a great time out there playing and if I could only hit it as far as he could it would be a different game.”

Statistically, Kisner hasn’t far behind Woodland, averaging about seven yards fewer off the tee. Their strokes-gained numbers from the tee box are even closer, as Woodland ranks fifth and Kisner eighth in strokes gained off-the-tee.

“He drove the ball unbelievable,” Woodland said of Kisner.

Typically, it’s Kisner’s putter that carries him to success. But recent work with swing coach John Tillery has helped Kisner avoid getting quick and narrow at the top of his swing, and has put Kisner in the mix in the last two majors. (He tied for second at the British Open after opening in 66-70-68.)

Kisner hit five approach shots inside of 10 feet on Friday. He converted all five to birdies. In all, he made seven birdies in Round 2, including six on the back nine, his first nine.

“Couldn’t ask for a better way to start (the round),” Kisner said. “Kept throwing darts on the back nine and holing the 8-, 10-footers I needed to make the birdies.

“… Only chance I got is I can still hit it at the flag instead of laying out to 40 feet trying to make par.”

Woodland has turned what is generally his weakness into a strength this week, as well. He had the best putting round of his career on Thursday, leading the field in strokes gained putting (4.365). He wasn’t as sharp with the flatstick a day later, but he did hit 15 of 18 greens.

Recent work with putting coach Phil Kenyon, who most recently helped Francesco Molinari figured out his putting and win the Claret Jug, has Woodland feeling confident on the greens.

“Today I just didn’t see putts go in,” said Woodland, who was able to drain a 25-footer at the par-5 eighth to retake his lead. “… If I’m starting the ball on line and hitting solid putts, that’s the key for me. I’m not too worried about the result as much anymore.”

Not that Woodland ever gets worried. Neither does Kisner. That’s another thing they have in common.

“I just love how calm he is out there, he he’s doesn’t let anything get him too rattled,” Kisner said. “He’s absolutely striping it and rolling the rock, so if he’s going to keep that up we’re going to have a pretty good battle if I can, too.”

If no player from the afternoon makes a run at the lead, the Woodland-Kisner battle will begin Round 3 on Saturday.

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