AUGUSTA — The extended Kisner family reunion carried on Saturday, again spilling over from their Aiken homes to the larger social venue at Augusta National Golf Club.
Kevin Kisner couldn’t wait to hurry back to watch Masters television coverage and round-wrecking high winds.
“Go home, sit on the couch, have a beer and laugh at everybody else. That’s my plan,” the Aiken native said after carding a third-round 76 to drop to 9 over par for the tournament.
Neither winds gusting at 35 mph nor six bogeys could spoil one of the best stories of the week, a local 32-year-old Masters rookie who has paid his dues on lesser tours of the world.
Better late than never.
Kisner has been good enough lately to vault into conversation for the Olympic and Ryder Cup teams. After a breakthrough 2015, he got his first PGA Tour victory in November. He jumped from 257th in the World Golf Ranking at the end of 2014 to 22 this week.
Friends, family, in-laws, his wife Brittany and encouraging strangers have followed Kisner around the golf course all week.
One of the loudest roars of the tournament came Thursday when he drained a 7-foot putt for eagle on the par 5 No. 2 hole.
There was a collective groan Saturday after Kisner’s second shot at No. 13, the par 5 Azalea hole. It kicked off the downslope between the raised green and a Rae’s Creek tributary and bounced back 30 yards into the fairway.
“I tried to hold it off the side of the hill,” Kisner said. “But the wind … Who knows what the wind is doing?”
He wiggled back for a par after birdies at No. 13 the first two days.
Kisner, one of the longest hitters on tour and No. 3 in the PGA’s all-around stat ranking, had to hesitate Saturday before almost every shot.
Playing partner Justin Thomas shot 6 over par.
“Every shot is just guessing and hitting and praying,” Kisner said. “I mean, I never felt comfortable even on wedge shots all day. Putts are just brutal; I watched Justin hit a four-footer that went 55 feet.”
Unusual paths to Augusta greens were not new for Kisner. He had a three-putt double-bogey on No. 5 on Friday, and was on the outside of a projected cut list before steaming through the final 13 holes at 2-under to barely make the cut at five-over for 36 holes.
Course knowledge gained from frequent trips to the Masters as a patron — knowing to accept pars without reservation, expecting a bushel full of downhill putts, managing stress on 17 and 18 — often paid off. The 5-10, 165-pound Kisner, dedicated to practicing Augusta chip shots, pitched in from 20 yards for a birdie on the par 4 No. 9 hole Friday.
Kisner’s odd resume is as up and down as some of his birdie/bogey Masters rounds. He helped the South Aiken High School Thoroughbreds power their way to Class AAAA state championships in 2000 and 2001 and became one of the best-ever players at Georgia. Kisner helped the Bulldogs win the 2005 NCAAA title. He left as four-time All-American with a Business Management degree.
But the Web.com Tour veteran didn’t get a win until his 109th PGA Tour event, the RSM Classic at Sea Island, Ga., in November.
Kisner came so close in 2015. The same pressure specialist who once outdueled Dutch Fork’s Dustin Johnson in a South Carolina high school tournament playoff, lost three PGA Tour playoffs last year, including to Jim Furyk at the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head.
The surge into frequent contention earned Kisner his first initial invitation to the Masters, which his mother Christy has at home inside a picture frame adorned with a crucifix.
Make room for more souvenirs. Per Masters tradition, Kisner gets a pair of highball glasses from Augusta National for that eagle on Thursday.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” he said with a big smile.
Kisner also cherishes the crowd support.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I wish I could play better and get into contention so they could have something more fun to watch. But I’m learning every day and trying to write notes down for next year.”
If Kinser can keep those notes from blowing away, he should be fine for 2017.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff