A year ago, Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown did just about everything they could to win the Zurich Classic, including a miraculous, walk-off chip-in in the dark to force a Monday playoff. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough, and the duo lost on the fourth playoff hole to Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt.
But the buddies from South Carolina are near the top of the leaderboard again this week, and determined to get it done after coming so close last season. Through 36 holes, they’re at 12-under 132, one off the lead held by the team of Andrew Putnam and Michael Kim. Even the high-pressure alternate-shot format couldn’t slow them down on Friday, as they grinded their way to a two-under 70 with three birdies and a bogey.
“It’s definitely tougher,” Brown said of alternate shot, adding, “you obviously don’t want to hit a bad shot for your partner, but it happens. It’s a tough day out there today. The wind is blowing around, and we did a good job of hitting a lot of greens.
“I think we had one bogey for the day, so pretty good in this format.”
That lone bogey came on the pair’s eighth hole, the par-3 17th at TPC Louisiana, where Brown missed the green right off the tee and Kisner’s subsequent chip rolled 27 feet past the hole. Brown bounced back on their next par 3 at the third hole, hitting it to 22 feet, leading to a birdie conversion from Kisner, who ranks seventh on tour in strokes-gained/putting.
“We would love to get a trophy together. We grew up together and are long-time friends, so it would be fun to win together. We’ve won a bunch of tournaments together, so we’re looking forward to the weekend,” said Kisner.
Teaming with Kisner seems to be a panacea for Brown, who has missed six of his last nine cuts and failed to register anything better than a T-46 at the Honda Classic. Meanwhile, Kisner is having another strong season, having earned nearly $2 million already and collecting five top 25s, three top 10s and a runner-up at the WGC-Match Play.
“I feel like it’s just because we play together so much when we’re home,” said Brown. “Obviously I’ve seen him hit some really good shots, some really bad shots, and he’s seen the same.
“We don’t put any pressure on each other. We know it’s going to happen, and we just live with it and try to do better on the next one.”
Kisner and Brown head into the weekend one back of Putnam and Kim, who followed their best-ball 62 with an alternate-shot, three-under 69 that featured five birdies and one double bogey. It’s Putnam’s first appearance in the team format, while Kim is making his second start, having finished 36th last year alongside Brandon Hagy.
The teams of Chad Campbell and Australia’s Matt Jones, and Nate Lashley and Rob Oppenheim are two back at 11-under 133. Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar are nine-under 135, while tournament favourites Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, and Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed lurk at eight-under 136.
Australia’s Jason Day and Ryan Ruffels carded 74 after opening with an eight-under 64. They sit alongside another all-Australian pairing, Greg Chalmers and Cameron Percy, on six-under par and seven strokes off the lead in T-25.
The weekend promises to be an entertaining one, but some big names won’t be around for it, including the team of Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer. They were safely inside the cut line at eight under as they went to the 17th tee. A back-to-back double-bogey finish that included multiple balls in the water sent them home early.
“I had a couple really bad swings,” said Spieth, who hit his tee shot at the par-3 17th in the water and then hit their layup shot at the par-5 18th in the water as well. “Bad decision on the layup. Hit a club that could possibly reach the bunker. I was deciding whether to go over it or short of it, and instead I took the club that was right in between and tried to throw it up in the air to get it close to the bunker. It was just trying to make up for the hole before.
“You know, I cost our team an opportunity, which, you know, really sucks given how hard we fought today. It’s not a good feeling. It’s much worse than if it’s just you.”
Spieth wasn’t the only top player to miss the cut. Justin Thomas and Bud Cauley, as well as Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan, and Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello, all missed by one at four-under 140. Defending champions Smith and Blixt came up short too, finishing at three-under 141.