Kevin Kisner feels right at home after an opening-round 66 and a one-shot lead at the British Open
Clearly, Kevin Kisner is hanging out with the right crowd.
The 34-year-old American with a relatively modest resume — two wins on the PGA Tour — is sharing a house in Carnoustie with some of the best players in the game, among them Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler.
That means the housemates have won a combined eight major championships, with Fowler and Kisner being the only ones who haven’t contributed to that count.
But Kisner took an impressive step in that direction Thursday, shooting a five-under-par 66 to take a one-stroke lead in the first round of the British Open.
Now, the Claret Jug isn’t awarded after 18 holes, and having the lead after one round is meaningless if you can’t sustain that momentum. But Kisner had reason to feel good as he headed back to the house, where the buddies have a private chef, a beautiful new grill, eight Tomahawk steaks one night and brisket tacos another.
Asked about his reward for a solid day of work, Kisner said, “I probably get to eat first.”
He unquestionably brought home the bacon in the opening round, with four birdies and an eagle offsetting his lone bogey. On a glorious day, he had game to match, working his way around the course with only 22 puts, three fewer than anyone else.
“I felt like my ball position got too far back at the Greenbrier,” he said of the tournament earlier this month in which he finished 55th. “I was missing every putt to the right. So I came here Monday and worked really hard on my speed, which is always the hardest thing for us to get accustomed to here. … The ball started coming off on the line, and when I’m doing that, I feel like I can hole them all.”
Kisner has a one-shot lead over Tony Finau and South Africans Eric Van Rooyen and Zander Lombard at 67, with three players at 68.
As usual, putting was key. No one was a better illustration of that than England’s Oliver Wilson, who was tied for first with 15 greens in regulation, but had the most putts of the day with 37. He’s at four over and has some heavy lifting to make the Friday cut.
Roughly half the field hit fewer than half the fairways, and Kisner was in that group. But the bone-dry conditions made for thinner and therefore less-punitive tall grass. If that rough were more robust, it would grab the clubs more effectively.
Zach Johnson of the United States celebrates a birdie on the 18th hole Friday in the second round of the British Open.(Andrew Redington / Getty Images)
Justin Rose of England plays a shot from a bunker on the third hole during the second round of the British Open.(Stuart Franklin / Getty Images)
Spectators shelter under umbrellas during the second round of the British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland.(Jon Super / Associated Press)
Tiger Woods studies a putt on the ninth green during the second round of the British Open.(Paul Ellis / AFP/Getty Images)
Scotland’s Sandy Lyle celebrates a birdie putt on the 18th green during the second round of the Britsh Open.(Paul Ellis / AFP/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy chips out of the rough on the second hole during the second round of the British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland.(Glyn Kirk / AFP/Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson blasts out of a fairway bunker during the second round of the Britsh Open.(Gerry Penny / EPA / Shutterstock)
Eddie Pepperell of England hits a bunker shot on the 18th hole during the second round of the British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland.(Andrew Redington / Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy reacts after a birdie putt failed to fall on the 18th hole Friday in Carnoustie, Scotland.(Francois Nel / Getty Images)
Kevin Kisner shelters from the rain on the fifth green Friday during the second round of the British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland.(Andy Buchanan / AFP/Getty Images)
Jon Rahm of Spain hits a bunker shot from an unorthodox stance on the sixth hole during the second round of the British Open.(Harry How / Getty Images)
British Open spectators nap behind a clump of bushes at Carnoustie Golf Club in Carnoustie, Scotland.(Will Oliver / EPA-Shutterstock)
Tiger Woods tees off on the ninth hole during the first round of the British Open on Thursday in Carnoustie, Scotland.(Glyn Kirk / AFP/Getty Images)
Dustin Johnson plays his approach shot to the green on the first hole on Day 1 of the British Open.(Francois Nel / Getty Images)
Branden Grace of South Africa watches his tee shot on No. 16 on Day 1 of the British Open.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan drops his club after a wayward shot on the sixth hole on Day 1 of the British Open.(Francois Nel / Getty Images)
Russell Knox of Scotland hits a bunker shot from one knee in the first round of the British Open.(Francois Nel / Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy of Ireland wore his opinion of the Carnoustie course on the soles of his shoes on Day 1 of British Open.(Stuart Franklin / Getty Images)
Justin Thomas of the United States indicates where his ball should go after putting on the 18th green on Day 1 of the British Open.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Alex Noren of Sweden plays a shot from a bunker on the 15th hole in the opening round of the British Open.(Stuart Franklin / Getty Images)
Tiger Woods plays from a greenside bunker on the sixth hole in the opening round of the British Open. Woods parred the hole and shot even par for his round.(Jon Super / Associated Press)
“There’s definitely spots out there that are bad,” Kevin Na said after shooting one under. “But, obviously, if you just stay out of the fairway bunkers, then you’re doing just fine.”
Unlike last month’s U.S. Open, when gusting winds coupled with baked greens turned Shinnecock Hills in New York into Bogeyland U.S.A., the greens at Carnoustie are actually green, and the trickiest part of the course was fairways as brown as birch and just about as hard. The balls rolled and rolled.
“That’s the beauty this golf course is right now,” said Johnson, Kisner’s housemate, in a mosh pit of players tied at two under. “You can hit seven-irons and six-irons off the tee box. You can hit drivers. But you’d better hit both of them straight. I’m not embellishing it one bit. I’ve never hit an eight-iron off a par-four, and I hit an eight-iron off a par-four today.”
Five players recorded drives longer than 400 yards. But the huge hitters didn’t necessarily reap the benefits. For instance, Kisner was 100th in average drive at 313.5 yards, and had a much better day than Bryson DeChambeau, who led in that category (379.0) yet is tied for 110th at four over.
The leaderboard is filled with red numbers. That could change if the winds pick up, or with rain, as is forecast for Friday.
Spieth, who won this tournament at Royal Birkdale last year, got off to a good start Thursday with three birdies in the first 11 holes. But he cooled down the stretch, with two bogeys and a double in the final four holes for a 72.
“It felt like I missed an opportunity,” he said.
Tiger Woods also had opportunities. He teed off in the afternoon, attracted the biggest crowds and was two under after four holes. But three bogeys on the back nine left him at even par.
Because of the unusual conditions, namely balls that roll forever, players have a wide range of options on every hole. Asked if that makes it easier or harder, Spieth didn’t hesitate.
“Definitely harder,” he said. “You hit a shot and it doesn’t go as planned, and you’re always second-guessing yourself. You could have hit somewhere else. I could have hit driver, or I could have hit five-iron. Even with almost no wind — we’re playing five-irons to go 250, 260 yards. Downwind, close to 300.”
That’s an awfully long way. Then again, there’s a long way to go in this tournament.
“Five over could win it,” Spieth said. “Fifteen under could win it.”
In other words, with so many variables in play, this isn’t just the British Open. It’s the Wide Open.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer
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