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Kevin Kisner seeks to straighten out season at Harbour Town

2020 Masters
Kevin Kisner takes comfort in his return to Harbour Town and the PGA Tour’s annual stop in his native South Carolina.

After missed cut at Masters, South Carolinian heads to Lowcountry in search of a friendlier track at a place that feels more like home

There are only so many places on the PGA Tour where Kevin Kisner, in moments of brutal honesty, considers himself to have a really good chance at winning.

This week’s RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links is one of them. (For tee times, click here.)

You won’t see Kisner take a Bryson DeChambeau-like aerial assault on the game and pulverize courses. He plays them the way in which they are designed: fairways, greens and, on a good day, birdie putts.

Kisner ranks only 189th in driving distance on the PGA Tour, at 286.9 yards per measured tee shot, but that shortcoming won’t matter nearly as much this week on Hilton Head Island. The late designer Pete Dye’s seaside masterpiece demands precision, and that’s where Kisner will seek to press his advantage. He ranks fourth in driving accuracy, at 71.83 percent of fairways hit, and that fairways-and-greens mentality will be critical this week.

“I'm down here on full-on grind to try to compete at a tournament I feel like I can win,” he said Tuesday at a pre-tournament media conference. “There's less of those on the PGA Tour schedule now than there used to be, and this is definitely a highlight of mine for the year.”

Kisner, 37, is a lifelong resident of Aiken, S.C., about 2½ hours north of Hilton Head, so the PGA Tour’s annual spring stop on this Lowcountry barrier island is a home game of sorts for him. Even closer to home, Augusta National Golf Club, is only a 30-minute drive from his residence. Kisner said he was “pretty ticked off” at the state of his game after he missed the cut at the Masters last week, his second consecutive weekend off in stroke-play events after another MC at the Players Championship.

Kisner has been experimenting with an arm-lock putting stroke, which he might use this week, and he was shopping for putters on the island.

“I've got to start seeing some putts going in the hole,” he said. “My biggest problem is, I've normally been one of the best inside 8 feet, and this year I'm not making it, so I can't keep the momentum of the round going when I miss a green. And then if I stuff an iron shot and miss the putt, it's really putting a drag on the whole game. If I can see this way starting on line and hitting more solid putts more consistently, I think it can help overall, but it's still just a trial as of now.”

He has slipped to No. 41 in the world ranking after having ended 2020 at No. 25, largely on the strength of a runner-up at the RSM Classic, just down the coast in St. Simons Island, Ga. The Hilton Head stop, which he called “a highlight of mine for the year,” could be just what Kisner needs, not only to win a fourth career title on the PGA Tour but also perhaps join the discussion for this fall’s Ryder Cup. He ranks 20th in the U.S. standings, but match play is one of his strengths. He won the 2019 WGC Match Play and went 2-1 in the recent edition, failing to make the Round of 16. He also can point to a 2-0-2 record in the 2017 Presidents Cup, his lone international team event as a professional.

Kisner is a former winner at the PGA Tour’s event at Colonial in Fort Worth, another course that demands accuracy. Harbour Town features tight fairway corridors that will penalize not only drives off the fairway but oftentimes tee shots hit onto the wrong side of the fairway. Doglegs and overhanging oaks make it a thinking-man’s track where the bombers don’t have much, if any, of an advantage.

“I feel like I'm playing well, not getting results,” he said, “so I'm looking forward to playing the golf courses here in the next stretch that I really enjoy playing and hopefully start to see some more positive results.”

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