Kevin Kisner and Chris Stroud assess their chances at Quail Hollow
All of it, from the announcement seven years ago that the PGA Championship was headed to the Quail Hollow Club this steamy week to the sweat-soaked struggle through the first three rounds, has led to this.
One more day. One more round. One more question to be answered.
Maybe Kevin Kisner will have a golf story to top all his others when he and his buddies go off the grid as they like to do down near Aiken, S.C.
Maybe Hideki Matsuyama becomes the first Japanese-born player ever to win a major championship, an achievement of immense proportions not fully appreciated here.
Maybe Chris Stroud, who wasn’t eligible for this event one week ago, will pull off a stunner that will dwarf the 1,400 texts and 55 voicemails he received after winning in Reno, Nev., last Sunday.
Maybe it’s Justin Thomas’s turn. Or Louis Oosthuizen again. And just imagine if Raleigh’s Grayson Murray wins today.
Maybe someone we’re not thinking about shoots 64 from back in the pack and the Quail Hollow that has been chewing on players all week will spit out a surprise champion.
That’s what this PGA Championship has come to – a hot, sticky day of reckoning.
“It’s a dream to win a major championship,” said Kisner, who has never finished in the top 10 of a major. “I like where I am. I like having a chance.”
If you like bedazzled golf, this isn’t your week. This is golf in work boots and tool belts. The only thing more prevalent than bogeys is sweat stains and 5 ½-hour long rounds.
Kisner stood over his second shot on the 16th hole Saturday at 10-under par. He walked off the 18th green at 7-under par, still leading but facing a different Saturday night.
“I had a chance to take people out of the tournament and I didn’t do that. Now it’s a dogfight,” Kisner said.
This is a different Quail Hollow than the one that flowers to life each May for the Wells Fargo Championship. The combination of deep, damp Bermuda rough, rain-softened fairways and firm, fast greens with edgy pin positions is a recipe for grinding golf.
With the exception of Graham DeLaet’s out-of-body experience Saturday afternoon when he went 2-2-3-3-3 starting at the 13th hole, this PGA Championship has felt like it is being played in a glitter-free zone.
Jordan Spieth’s career Slam chase melted. Rory McIlroy’s magic here wore off. Jason Day made an eight on the 18th hole to destroy his chance of winning.
Most years, the PGA Championship comes off as the most generous major championship, offering an end of summer chance to make some birdies and win a big one. What the Masters offers in setting, the U.S. Open offers in difficulty and the Open Championship offers in weather, the PGA Championship offers in opportunity.
This one, however, comes with a harder edge.
“The set up has been too tough for a PGA, to be honest,” said Webb Simpson, who lives on the course.
“I feel like I’m out there trying to survive. Similar feelings to when I play a U.S. Open.”
Quail Hollow’s edge begins with its new first hole, a par-5 for the members but a 522-yard par-4 for the professionals, who failed to make a birdie there on Saturday. It sets the tone like an ill-tempered bouncer.
“I haven’t seen a low score out there for me,” said McIlroy, who shot 21-under par winning the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship.
No one had mastered the rhythm of playing Quail Hollow better this week than Kisner. He has a simple philosophy that works with his simple swing. Survive the first six holes. Try to birdie Nos. 7, 8, 14 and 15 then hang on to what you’ve got over the three closing holes.
This was supposed to be a bomber’s paradise this week and there are some long hitters on the leader board. But the penalty for hitting stray shots is so severe that Kisner’s tactical approach has looked like a touch of genius. What he may lack in power he has more than made up for with a clear head, his street fighter’s toughness and a economical putting stroke.
Then one bad swing at the 16th bit Kisner like a rattlesnake. He pull-yanked his approach shot into the water and made a double bogey.
Another pull hook into the 18th green led to closing bogey and hinted at nerves becoming an issue.
“It feels easy until you snipe one in the water and then it feels hard again,” Kisner said.
And now the hardest day has arrived.