ST. LOUIS — Kevin Kisner walked stone-faced off his 16th hole towards the next tee Friday at the PGA Championship. As playing partner and first-round leader Gary Woodland walked ahead of him, the cheers and shouts for Woodland came one after another.
There were just a couple for Kisner, despite what had just happened. Kisner made a short birdie putt — his seventh of the day — to move to the outright lead of the tournament. Birdie and par over the next two holes would mean a 62, tied for the lowest score ever in a major and the lowest score in PGA Championship history.
But that birdie on No. 7 was his first in a while. Kisner started teasing the record on his front nine (he started at hole 10) with a blistering six birdies and no bogeys for a 29. By the time he made the turn he had taken a one-shot lead over his buddy Woodland. When he hit his 16th hole he was on a stretch of six pars.
“I knew I was playing well and I had made a few birdies, but no, I hit it great on that, well, our second nine and just didn’t hole any putts,” Kisner said.
The record never happened for Kisner. As he pushed an aggressive chip well past the hole on No. 9 he had to settle for bogey and a 64 and 9-under for the tournament. Meanwhile, two other players stole his thunder.
Brooks Koepka shoots 63
Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka began Friday two shots back of Kisner and five back of Woodland. He shot a 32 on his first nine and, unlike Kisner, kept scoring on his back nine. Koepka drained four birdies over his final nine holes and just missed a birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him a 62.
He said he had no idea he was going after a piece of a major record.
“I just was trying to make the thing and I really thought I made it,” Koepka said. “[Caddy] Rickie [Elliott] said something walking off on 18. I didn’t even think of it. I’ve been so in the zone you don’t know where you are or where you’re at.”
Koepka was in the group just ahead of Kisner that included Masters champion Patrick Reed and British Open champion Francesco Molinari. With Woodland’s local following and the three players in the group ahead all current major champions, they played in front of relatively large galleries for most of the day.
Charl Schwartzel, however, did not.
Charl Schwartzel also cards a 63
Traversing the main walkways near holes 1, 10 and 18 and the practice green at Bellerive is quite the challenge because of the sheer number of people. If you let your eyes wander for a split-second someone may run into you.
“I don’t think I’ve seen so many people at a golf tournament,” Charl Schwartzel said. “It has to be the most I’ve ever seen come to an event.”
Had those people wandered over to the grandstands at the 18th hole, they could have seen the former Masters champion finish his record-tying round of 63. As he strolled up to the green and tapped in for par, he did it in relatively anonymous fashion. There were plenty of seats still available.
To be fair, Schwartzel started the day at even-par, six shots off the lead. But he posted eight birdies — four each side — and he, too, had a late birdie putt that could have seized him a 62. But he had to settle for par on the par-5 17th.
“I drove it decently well for me and gave myself — my iron play has been really good,” Schwartzel said. “So I gave myself just a lot of chances. I felt like I was putting for birdie on pretty much every hole.”
Kisner in contention in a major, again
Kisner is the only player of the three who hasn’t won a major. And he’s looking for some redemption at the PGA Championship. He entered the final round in 2017 with a one-shot lead overall and a three-shot lead over Justin Thomas. While Thomas shot a 4-under to win the tournament at 8-under, Kisner shot a 3-over to fall all the way to seventh.
He was in a three-way tie for the lead at the British Open in July. But lost three shots to par in that round as well to finish in a tie for second. Kisner is now just one back of leader Woodland (at 10-under); he’s got a great shot at entering the final round with the lead again.
“All I know is if I hit it in the fairway and hit it on the green and make the putt I’m probably going to have a good shot at it,” Kisner said. “That’s all I’m going to keep trying to do. I’m not going to get too caught up in it.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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