Until he scored his second PGA Tour victory in the Colonial Invitational, Kevin Kisner was best known for finishing second six times in the past two years.
Four of those runner-up finishes came in 2015, when he emerged as a prime time player after three years of anonymous performances on golf’s biggest stage.
Two more came earlier this year, including a tie for second in the Bay Hill Invitational, where he let a final round lead slip away for the first time after a series of outstanding Sunday showings when in contention.
Kisner held off the likes of Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm to collect his second PGA Tour win at Colonial CC, scoring four birdies on the back nine for a final round 66. He finished one ahead of Spieth, Rahm and Sean O’Hair and two in front of Webb Simpson, finishing with a 10-under 270 total on one of the PGA Tour’s most respected layouts.
With his victory, Kisner became the fourth former Georgia Bulldog to win on the PGA Tour in 2017, joining Hudson Swafford (Bob Hope), Russell Henley (Houston) and Brian Harman (Wells Fargo). All four are currently 21st or better in the FedExCup standings, with Kisner tops among the four at No. 7.
Although Kisner had only one win against six runner-up finishes prior to Colonial, it wasn’t because was he was struggling on Sundays. His final round scores when in position to win include three 64s and a 65, and he was the primary contributor to a final round 60 in the recent team event in New Orleans that got him and Aiken, S.C., neighbor Scott Brown into a playoff.
Four of Kisner’s runner-up finishes have come in playoffs, with the other two by one and two shots. He wound up tied for second, one behind Marc Leishman at Bay Hill earlier this year, shooting 73 in the final round after beginning the day tied for the lead.
Kisner began Sunday at Colonial three in back of Simpson in a tie for fourth, and trimmed just one shot off Simpson’s lead with a 1-under 34 on the front nine. Kisner began his back-nine surge when he rolled in a 40-footer for birdie at 10, and followed with birdies on 11 and 12 to move to the front. He increased his lead to two with another birdie at the 15th, but missed a 5 ½-foot par putt at the 16th to reduce his margin to one.
Needing a par on the 18th to ensure himself at least a spot in a playoff, Kisner came up just short of the par-4 in two after his drive found the rough, and elected to use his putter from 55 feet up a slope. He left himself a 5-footer for par, and drilled it for the win, as Spieth, Rahm and Simpson all failed to birdie the hole to send the tournament to a playoff.
Kisner is 0-4 in playoffs over the past two years, with his record more a reflection on the quality of play in extra holes by his competitors.
Jim Furyk shot a final round 63 before winning a playoff in the Heritage Classic with birdies to start Kisner’s run of playoff disappointments. Shortly after that, Kisner lost to Rickie Fowler in the Players after Fowler produced a string of birdies down the stretch and in a playoff. A 64 at the Greenbrier, matching his final round score at Sea Pines, got Kisner into a third playoff in three months, but he again lost to birdies on extra holes.
Kisner’s fourth playoff loss came one month ago in New Orleans after he chipped in for eagle on the 72nd hole to propel him and Brown into a tie for first just as darkness ended play for the day. Kisner and Brown lost to a birdie on the fourth playoff hole the next morning.
The runner-up finish that likely stung the worst for Kisner came at Bay Hill this spring. He was tied with Charley Hoffman after 54 holes, and took the lead with a pair of birdies on the front nine. But he shot 2-over on the back without a birdie, and lost by one when Leishman eagled the par-5 16th.
“I’ve been in this position a ton,” Kisner said after his win in Ft. Worth, “and the one thing I always take away is you got to keep making birdies, and basically look up when you just can’t make any more.”
Four birdies on the back nine Sunday were enough to keep him in front of his pursuers, and concluded a strong showing by Kisner on one of his favorite courses on the PGA Tour.
Kisner was two off the lead after an opening 67, and followed with another 67 to move into a tie for the lead with Simpson and two others. A frustrating third round 70 dropped Kisner three behind Simpson after 54 holes, but this time a mid-60s final round earned him an outright victory, his first since the 2015 RSM Classic at Sea Island GC, when he closed with a 64 to win by six shots.
“You start questioning if you’re going to win again after a while,” Kisner said after his second victory. “I knew that way I was playing, I was going to give myself a ton of chances to win.”
Until his 2015 victory at Sea Island GC, Kisner’s only wins as a professional came on mini-tours and the Web.com Tour. He played well on the now-defunct Tar Heel Tour during his early years as a pro, and was 11th and 13th on the money list in his two Web.com seasons.
Kisner, who graduated from Georgia in 2006, won as a rookie on the Web.com Tour in 2010, and after two mostly unsuccessful years on the PGA Tour in 2011 and ’12, was back in golf’s Class AAAA in 2013. He collected his second Web.com win that year and finished high enough on the money list to earn a second promotion to the PGA Tour.
This time, Kisner retained his exempt status for the following season, with his best finish of the 2014 season a tie for sixth in the Byron Nelson Classic. A tie for fourth at Sea Island GC following a final round 65 got his 2014-15 season off to a promising start, and his runner-up finishes in the 2015 portion of the schedule in the Heritage, Players and Greenbrier moved him into the spotlight for the first time.
Kisner nearly scored his first win later that year in the WGC event in China, but finished two shots behind Russell Knox for his fourth runner-up finish in six months. Two weeks later, Kisner finally capitalized on an opportunity to win on the Georgia coast, but after a strong showing early in 2016 in the Hawaiian Open, it was more than a year before Kisner’s next shot at victory in Orlando.
With his win at Colonial, Kisner moved up from 17th to 7th in the FedExCup standings and from 45 to 22 in the World Golf Rankings. He has secured a third straight invitation to the 2018 Masters, a drive of less than half an hour from his home in South Carolina.
Kisner was born and raised in Aiken and still makes his home there. He played his college golf in Athens, and was part of the Bulldogs’ 2005 NCAA championship squad along with fellow PGA Tour winners Chris Kirk and Brendon Todd.
Although Kisner was one year ahead of Kirk and Todd, he spent most of his last three seasons playing behind them, as well as Harman, who was a freshman when Kisner was a senior. Kisner was an honorable mention All-America selection all four seasons in Athens, and compiled 14 career top-10 finishes, but never was a tournament medalist for the Bulldogs.