He was the odd man out in a decorated trio. On one side of the The Players Championship playoff group stood Sergio Garcia, Ryder Cup veteran and 2008 winner at TPC Sawgrass. On the other, Rickie Fowler, a top-five finisher at all four 2014 majors, waited to continue his ridiculous six-under in six holes stretch.
Prior to Sunday’s round, the list of Kevin Kisner’s professional accomplishes started and ended with a T2 finish at last month’s RBC Heritage. Coincidentally, he lost in a playoff then too. But there he was with extra holes to play against two of the world’s best golfers. The irony—Kisner stood out because he’s an everyman.
The Aiken, South Carolina native liked to make trips to TPC Sawgrass with his golfing buddies. They’d drink beers, share laughs, and enjoy the experience of challenging the famed course without the pressures of a “Fifth Major” tagline.
Perhaps that experience let Kisner to remain calm down the closing quartet of holes. With Fowler in the clubhouse at -12, Kisner teed off on the par-five 16th two shots back. He birdied as playing partner Bill Haas, also at 10-under, missed a short eagle putt. Kisner birdied 17 too and came agonizingly close to a victory on 18.
There was a script rewrite happening before our eyes. Garcia, who came to Florida with three putters and left with one, sought to conquer his demons of 2013. Fowler, recently named the most overrated player on tour by his colleagues, destroyed that notion with four birdies and an eagle on his final six holes to claim the lead.
Kisner wasn’t meant to disrupt the narrative. He couldn’t steal The Players. Could he? In the end, he fell short through no fault of his own. He birdied the island (isthmus) green in the three-hole aggregate playoff, only to be matched by Fowler. His putt for the win on 18 grazed the edge of the cup for a second time.
Then, Rickie ended all hopes for the South Carolinian with a lethal wedge back at 17. Kisner put up a valiant effort and should be remembered for it.
The 31-year-old now has seven top tens in his career. Who knows if he’ll get this close to the top of the leaderboard again? One cliché has replaced another in sports. There are no such things as moral victories.
A second place paycheck is nice, though. And a role in the most exciting finish in recent PGA Tour history will satisfy Kisner in the coming days. He and his buddies will reminisce about it the next time they’re in town.