Ben Coley golf column on Kevin Kisner's near-miss
March 20 2017, 17:48
March 20 2017, 17:48
Ben Coley reflects on Kevin Kisner's near-miss in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
The specifics of the time and day are hazy, but I remember being at Cheltenham with my dad, being old enough to bet, and feeling bold enough now to offer my opinion to the person who, to me, knew more about horse racing than anybody else in the world.
I vaguely recall engaging in some speculation. I'd heard something from someone about some horse or another, or else I'd seen a market move from a yard who someone else had told me were shrewd.
What I remember vividly is my dad's response: "The only thing to trust is your eyes."
Fifteen years later, or thereabouts, it's advice I haven't forgotten and, while my eyes let me down quite spectacularly at last week's Festival, in the long run I'm certain the old man was right.
And that's why next time Kevin Kisner is in contention I'll likely trust him to get the job done, despite his painful, wretched failure to do so at Bay Hill last night.
A numbers-led approach does for many, particularly in golf, and numbers can be used to paint a damning portrait of Kisner.
Before last night, he'd been in three play-offs and lost every one of them. His lone victory came by six shots; the back-nine on Sunday was as relaxed as it's ever going to get for a player chasing their first title on the PGA Tour.
And in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he was the only player to reach 13-under in the field. Even at 12-under, he led by three and had two par-fives to come. At 11-under he'd have been in a play-off, a chance to end that hoodoo. At 10-under, he finished second.
Yet watching it live - and I certainly won't be watching a replay to confirm this suspicion - I felt that Kisner simply didn't get the rub of the green. Every bounce went against him, every putt just a shade offline. This was not a player incapable of holding things together, it was one who just didn't get the breaks when he needed them most. Worse performances have yielded better scores.
Leishman, on the other hand, most certainly did have things go his way. During the course of the final 18 holes he had a putt take a tour of the cup before consenting to drop; he had a wayward drive, more wayward than any Kisner hit, smash into a tree and fall into the fairway; he had a 55-foot eagle putt go straight in the middle of the hole.
This isn't to take away from a really likeable player, who deserves to remove himself from the group of those to have won 'only' one PGA Tour title. Leishman is classy, has a bank of elite form and could quite easily be a factor in majors over the coming months. He deserved to win, because he shot the lowest score over 72 holes and, like most champions, benefited from a marriage of good form and good fortune.
But while Kisner will be hard on himself, as he was immediately after the tournament, I retain faith in his ability under pressure. For the first 11 holes yesterday, his performance was precise, brave, clever - everything it needed to be to win. Yes, he hit a bad shot into 12, resulting in a sloppy bogey, but nobody in contention was able to avoid a mistake somewhere on a golf course which had firmed up considerably.
On hole 14, he was a club short, bang on-line. On 15, his approach shot was outstanding, and his chip was even better. On another day, it'd have dropped for birdie. On another day, his second to 16, from a hanging lie in a fairway bunker from where the urge to lay-up would've been too strong for many, would've gone a yard further and into the greenside trap, from which he could've got up and down for birdie.
This, of course, is the nature of sport, especially this one, and there can be only one winner. For golfers, the aim is to limit the impact of luck - to be too good for it to matter, as Kisner was at the RSM Classic, as Rickie Fowler was when he beat Kisner at the PLAYERS, as Leishman was when he won the Nedbank Challenge.
For those of us trying to work out who to bet on, the aim has to be to give context to numbers, because without it they mean nothing.
The best way to add context? Trust your eyes.
I've written before about how winning can put an end to a run of good form, which is precisely what happened to two of the most consistent players in world golf earlier this year.
Tommy Fleetwood's deserved victory in Abu Dhabi took weeks to recover from, and the same happened to Hudson Swafford after he landed the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Fleetwood has already shown that it was just a temporary blip, quickly resetting his goals and already going close to another career-best in the WGC-Mexico Championship.
And now perhaps Swafford is ready to do something similar, because after three missed cuts in succession - he'd made 20 in a row before winning - he's now gone T38-T10, latterly cutting through the pack with a 69-68 weekend at Bay Hill.
Swafford has always been a very highly-regarded player and it looks like it won't be long before he contends for a second PGA Tour title, in the same season which saw him land his first.
Fleetwood meanwhile caught the eye himself last week, as he consistently does. I'm rapidly coming to the belief that he's going to be a fixture in the world's top 20, contend for majors, play Ryder Cups, and become one of the leading English golfers at a good time for the nation.
Others of note from Bay Hill include Emiliano Grillo, the only player in the field to break 70 three times, and Jeunghun Wang, who lost form after winning in Qatar but, like those mentioned, appears to be getting back to where he was now.
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