For the second straight year, former Georgia Bulldog Kevin Kisner made a strong run at capturing a major championship before falling back in the final round.
Kisner, a lifelong resident of Aiken, S.C., just across the Savannah River from Augusta, had at least a share of the lead after each of the first three rounds in the British Open, winding up in a tie for second behind champion Francesco Molinari.
In last year’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, Kisner also had at least a share of the lead after all three rounds before slipping to a tie for seventh after a final round 74.
While most of last year’s contenders in the PGA Championship shot in the 60s the final day at Quail Hollow, Kisner was not alone in failing to break par in the fourth round Sunday at Carnoustie. His final round 74 matched that of fellow 54-hole leader Xander Schauffele and was two shots better than defending British Open champion Jordan Spieth, who was tied at the top of the leader board with Kisner and Schauffele at the beginning of the final round.
It was the second runner-up finish this year in one of golf’s premier events for Kisner, who lost to Bubba Watson in the finals of the WGC Match Play Championship in March. Kisner now has eight runner-up finishes since 2015 to go along with a pair of PGA Tour victories , the first at Sea Island GC in the RSM Classic in the fall of 2015.
Prior to last week, Kisner had made the cut in two of his first three appearances in the British Open, but had not finished in the top 50. His tie for seventh last year in the PGA was his only career top 10 in a major, but for the second straight year, Kisner was a serious challenger for one of golf’s four Grand Slam titles.
Kisner held the lead outright after an opening 5-under 66, and improved slightly on his one-shot lead after 18 holes, standing two ahead of the field as he played the 18th in the second round. But Kisner’s second shot from the rough at Carnoustie’s usually demanding 18th found the burn short of the green, and he fell into a tie with St. Simons Island resident Zach Johnson at 136 after 36 holes.
The 34-year old Kisner turned in a strong third round effort, carding a bogey-free 68, but was caught by both Spieth (65) and Schauffele (67). Spieth and Schauffele played in the final twosome in Sunday’s final round, with Kisner in the group ahead. The trio were three shots clear of the rest of the field, but were outplayed by Molinari, who closed with a bogey-free 69 in more difficult conditions than the players faced the day before.
Kisner quickly gave up his share of the lead in the final round when he double-bogeyed the second hole and bogeyed the third. He shot 4-over 40 on the opening nine, taking bogeys at holes 7 and 8 after a birdie at the par-5 sixth.
With all three of the third round co-leaders struggling on the opening nine, Kisner remained among the co-leaders after a birdie at the 10th, and was just one back of Molinari after both players birdied the 14th. A clutch par at the 16th kept Kisner close to Molinari, but the steady Italian put the tournament away when he birdied the 18th, just his second birdie of the day to go along with 16 pars,
With his tie for second, which included Schauffele, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, Kisner improved from 52 to 35 in the FedExCup standings, and is in position to qualify for the Tour Championship at East Lake for the fourth straight year. He also moved up from 33 to 25 in the World Golf Rankings.
Joining Kisner in the top 10 was St. Simons resident and former Georgia Tech All-American Matt Kuchar, who tied for ninth at 4-under 280. Kuchar hung close to the lead the entire tournament with scores of 70-68-70, and was within a few shots of the lead for most of the final round before Molinari pulled away with a pair of late birdies.
It was the second straight top 10 in the British Open for Kuchar, who placed second last year to Spieth’s sensational sprint to the finish at Birkdale.
After sharing the 36-hole with Kisner at 136 after rounds of 69 and 67, it was a disappointing weekend for Johnson, who won the 2015 British Open at St. Andrews.
Johnson was 2-under after 10 holes in Saturday’s third round and battling for the lead, but went bogey-double bogey on holes 11 and 12 and ended the day four shots off the lead after a 72 in a tie for sixth. Like the trio of leaders, Johnson struggled on the outward nine Sunday and was unable to mount a rally coming in, closing with a 74 to tie for 17th at 282.
Stewart Cink enjoyed one of his better British Open performances since his victory at Turnberry in 2009, tying for 24th at 1-under 283. Cink, a former standout at Georgia Tech and a long time Duluth resident, played steady throughout the tournament with scores of 72-70-71-70.
After finish in the top four in each of the last three majors, including his victory earlier this year in the Masters, ex-Augusta State golfer Patrick Reed was never a contender in the British Open, tying for 28th at 284. Reed was 4-under for the final 54 holes, but a 75 the first day took him out of contention.
Playing in his first British Open, Luke List shot under par in three of four rounds, but on a day when the contenders were shooting in the 60s, he stumbled to a 77 in the third round. List, who grew up in north Georgia, opened with back-to-back scores of 70, and was just four shots off the lead after 36 holes. But two double bogeys and five bogeys in Saturday’s third round ended any hopes he had of contending for the Claret Jug. List rebounded with a 69 in the final round to tie for 39th at 286.