Kevin Kisner, who did everything this year but win, suddenly felt as though he had everything to lose.
“Just chilling,” he said Sunday on the practice range at Sea Island, only that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Four times a runner-up this year when someone else simply played better, Kisner had a three-shot lead in the RSM Classic. Expectations were never higher. He battled to keep his mind off the prospects of ending the year with yet another close call.
4 Runner-up finishes for Kevin Kisner this season
“That was the hardest thing I had to deal with all day,” he said. “Only thing you can do is win or fail in that position. Hard to keep yourself from thinking, ‘What if it doesn’t work out?' So I just wanted to go out and make birdies early and try to keep playing the way I was playing.”
The golf was never easier.
He took only 11 putts on the front nine, five of them for birdie. He doubled his lead to six shots at the turn. And in the final round of the final tournament of the year, Kisner finally captured his first PGA Tour title with a 6-under 64 for a six-shot victory over Kevin Chappell.
What a way to end the year, by far the greatest year of my life golf-wise. To finish it that way, I couldn’t write it up any better.”
Kevin Kisner, Aiken, SC golfer on his first PGA Tour win
“What a way to end the year, by far the greatest year of my life golf-wise,” he said. “To finish it that way, I couldn’t write it up any better.”
So dominant was the 31-year-old from South Carolina that no one got closer than four shots after the second hole. He finished at 22-under 260, breaking the tournament record by four shots.
-22 Strokes under par Kisner finished after carding 65-67-64-64—260
Kisner became the sixth first-time winner in the fall start to the PGA Tour season, only this was hardly a surprise.
Jim Furyk had to make two birdies to beat Kisner in a playoff at Hilton Head. Rickie Fowler had to go four holes and make two birdies on the island-green 17th at the TPC Sawgrass to beat him at The Players Championship. He closed with a 64 only to lose in a four-man playoff at The Greenbrier. Russell Knox had all four rounds in the 60s in the HSBC Champions two weeks ago in Shanghai.
No one came close to him at Sea Island.
First time I think I’ve ever played with him. Didn’t realize just how steady he was. He played really aggressive today for a guy who has never won a golf tournament. I was thinking if I could get a couple under (par) early on that I might have some sort of a short. But he closed the door early on. And it was impressive.”
Graeme McDowell, who closed with a 67 to finish third
“First time I think I’ve ever played with him,” said Graeme McDowell, who closed with a 67 to finish third. “Didn’t realize just how steady he was. He played really aggressive today for a guy who has never won a golf tournament. I was thinking if I could get a couple under (par) early on that I might have some sort of a short. But he closed the door early on. And it was impressive.”
Kisner, who started the year at No. 236 in the world, moved up to No. 17.
“When he’s shooting 128 (64-64) on the weekend, pretty tough to beat,” Chappell said.
The highlight of the day was seeing 17-month-old daughter Kate running toward him when he tapped in for par on the 18th. Kisner scooped her up and said, “We did it!”
Did he ever.
I’ve just been playing so well all year. I knew one day it was going to happen when I was going to make all the putts. I did it on the front nine.”
“I’ve just been playing so well all year,” Kisner said. “I knew one day it was going to happen when I was going to make all the putts. I did it on the front nine.”
If there was a turning point, it would have been on the par-5 seventh hole when Kisner’s second shot landed in a native bush in the dunes short of the green. He chose to hammer it out of there and moved it about 5 feet, then chipped 8 feet by the hole. Graeme McDowell missed his 10-foot birdie putt and Kisner holed his for par. His lead stayed at four shots, and Kisner followed with a lob wedge to 8 feet for birdie on the next hole, and a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to go six clear.
The final three hours, if not the entire day, was a battle for second place.
McDowell, coming off a victory in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba last Monday in Mexico, lost out when his approach to the 16th buried so badly he had to clear away sand just to identify it. He swung as hard as he could, only for the ball to roll back into his foot print. He did well to make bogey, though Chappell made birdie on the hole for a two-shot swing that carried him to a 67 and the runner-up finish.
All that mattered to Kisner was keeping his distance. For all his second-place finishes, all he wanted was a big lead going to the final hole.
“Five strokes was pretty nice,” he said.
No. 1 Kisner’s rank in the FedEx Cup standings
Kisner goes into the six-week break atop the FedEx Cup standings and eager for his next chance. The victory allows him to start 2016 one week earlier in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.
“You’ve got to feel like you belong or you'll get run over,” Kisner said. “That sense of belonging and having a chance to win changes your outlook on yourself and your game on the PGA Tour.”