CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Don't sleep on Kevin Kisner, ladies and gentlemen.
Kisner, one of the co-leaders of the 99th PGA Championship after play finished Friday night, has fired twin 67s to put him at 8-under 134. He might not be a household name on the major golf scene. He is, however, a guy with plenty of game.
The University of Georgia product who resides in Aiken, South Carolina — just down the road from Augusta, Georgia — is a two-time PGA Tour winner and has risen to No. 25 in the Official World Golf Ranking this year. He's currently ninth on the PGA Tour's FedExCup standings and seventh in the U.S. Presidents Cup standings.
Back in May, Kisner won at Colonial and followed it a week later with a T6 at Memorial, two of the finest courses on the PGA Tour. Prior to that, he had runner-up finishes this season at Bay Hill and in the New Orleans team event.
Though he's struggled in the weeks leading up to this week's PGA Championship, Kisner has established himself as a regular contender these last two seasons.
"I'm just excited about the opportunity," said Kisner, playing in his 12th major overall this week. "I'm really fired up about it the way I'm hitting the golf ball. I haven't hit it this well this whole summer. A lot of averages finishes. When I start hitting it the way I am now, I play well. I'm looking forward to the weekend and having an opportunity to keep making birdies and playing well."
Kisner admitted he's upset about how he's played in the majors, having yet to record a Top 10. He's hoping that changes this week in a city that means a lot to his family.
"I've spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas in Charlotte from childhood to marriage," he said. "Been here a ton. Got a lot of ties to Quail Hollow. Brother-in-law's father is a founding member here. He's still a member here. We spent a lot of time in Charlotte; my 93-year-old grandmother still lives here by herself. We're here all the time, only two hours away."
There are low scores to be had. While par will remain every player’s friend over the weekend, Friday did prove that Quail Hollow can yield some low scores. Ryan Fox (more on him later) shot a 5-under 66, the lowest round of the tournament when the rains hit Friday. At the time, though, Hideki Matsuyama was coming on strong, and he finished with a 7-under 64 before darkness stopped play for some players.
Meanwhile, Francesco Molinari, after a first-round 73, bolted into contention with a 64, too, matching Matsuyama for the lowest round of the tournament.
Matsuyama and Kisner share the lead at 8-under, with Molinari tied for fourth, three strokes back.
Though defending champ Jimmy Walker will undoubtedly miss the cut — the line won't be finalized until second-round play is finished on Saturday — he had a 10-shot improvement from Round 1 to Round 2 with a 69 on Friday.
“It's there,” said Rickie Fowler, who shot a 70 on Friday and is 3 under for the week. “Like I said, to be able to hit your lines and hit your numbers going into greens, it's there. There's birdies. I made six yesterday. I didn't make as many today. There's opportunities to do it. You have got to minimize the amount of mistakes. Kis has done a great job of that the first two days. We're only halfway. Yeah, you want to get off to a good start and be in a good position which he has done and I have done as well. We'll go battle it out this weekend.”
Steve Stricker is a machine. At 50 years old, Stricker was on pace to make his 26th consecutive major championship cut as the weather delay hit. After a 4-over 75 on Thursday put this year's U.S. Presidents Cup Captain behind the 8-ball, he went out on Friday and fired a 1-under 70 to get to 4 over for the week.
The last time Stricker missed a major cut was the 2009 PGA Championship.
“It was on my mind today to play this weekend,” said Stricker, who had five birdies and four bogeys on Friday. “It's a tough course for me and everybody else. If you don't drive it in the fairway and all that, it becomes very difficult. But, yeah, I was thinking about it. I wanted to be around this weekend. I played good coming in. Hit a lot of good quality shots. Made a couple putts, but I'm not getting the ball in the holes quickly at times. Today was a little bit better.”
In 70 majors played before this week, Stricker made the cut 56 times, finishing inside the top 25 on 33 occasions and inside the top-10 13 times. His best finish was at Sahalee in 1998, where he finished second to Vijay Singh at the PGA Championship.
Omar Uresti is the only club professional expected to make the cut in the 2017 PGA Championship. The 49-year-old Uresti, winner of the PGA Professional Championship in June at the Sunriver Resort, punched his ticket to Quail Hollow along with the other 19 best finishers at the PPC.
Uresti is making the most of his PGA Championship start. The former longtime PGA and Web.com Tour member is at 2-over 142 through 36 holes after rounds of 74-70.
Far from the longest hitter in the field, what Uresti has been able to do to this point at the brutally long Quail Hollow is impressive.
This is Uresti’s third consecutive start in a PGA Championship and the first time he’s made the cut.
Beginner’s luck is working for New Zealand’s Ryan Fox. Playing in just his first PGA Championship, the 30-year-old Kiwi fired a sensational 5-under 66 Friday – nine strokes better than his 75 in Thursday’s opening round.
A member of the European Tour, Fix began the week as the 101st-ranked player in the world. So where did this 66 that featured six birdies and just one bogey come from?
“I’m pretty bloody happy to, be honest,” said Fox, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour of Australasia and the European Challenge Tour. “It was a little bit of a change from yesterday. I had a good nine on the back nine yesterday but got away with some errant tee shots. Got my butt kicked on the front nine when I kept hitting it in the rough. Managed to keep it in play a lot better today. Hit a lot more fairways. I guess length is an asset around here, and that's definitely a strong part of my game. It was nice to take advantage of that today and also see a few putts go in on top of that.”
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