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They were together a lot — once upon a time — traveling, competing against each other in junior and high school golf or joining forces in four-ball tournaments.
Dustin Johnson and Kevin Kisner are together again this week at the PGA Tour’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree, paired together and sharing a common mission: finding magic in their games.
Johnson, the Columbia native who helped Dutch Fork High win the state championship and blossomed into an All-American at Coastal Carolina, finished the 2020 calendar year with a flourish. His 2021 has been the antithesis.
Ditto Kisner, the Aiken native who led South Aiken to the state championship and earned All-American status at Georgia.
Johnson went from smashing records in the delayed-to-November 2020 Masters to missing the cut in the first two majors this year, the Masters and PGA. Kisner, who lost a playoff for the RSM title at Sea Island, Georgia to end his 2020 within a whisker of his fourth career win, had missed five straight cuts until sharing 40th place last week at Colonial.
Both sang a song of optimism in pre-tournament discussions. “I feel like it’s getting better,” Johnson said. And Kisner noted, “I see good signs.”
In Thursday’s first round at Congaree, D.J. made his prophecy look golden. Kisner? Still a work in progress.
Johnson fashioned one of the oddest 6-under-par 65s on the Tour. He sizzled on the scoreboard — and he did it without a birdie on any of Congaree’s par-5s.
Unusual for the long hitter?
“Yeah, I mean, I had good looks on all three of the par-5s, so I put the ball in the right spot,” he said. “I just didn’t make any putts.”
“Not making any putts” and failing to make birdie on any of the par-5s and still shooting 65? That pretty much says he’s on the way to reinforcing his No. 1 status in the world rankings.
At 6-under, he shared the lead Thursday afternoon with former Clemson star Doc Redman.
“I’m playing well,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’ve been playing good all year. But like I said, I haven’t putted well and the short game’s been a little off. Today, I missed it in the right spots when I did miss and hit a lot of quality iron shots and gave myself a lot of looks (at birdie).”
A hidden statistic in his 6.5 shots gained overall — he was 7 for 7 in scrambling after missing the greens in regulation.
“With these greens, there’s a lot of times the ball rolls just off the green, but it’s still a pretty good shot,” he said. “So a lot of times it was with the putter and, yeah, like I said, I just left it in, missed it on the right sides of the hole and gave myself chances all the time.”
Starting on No. 10, he kept his round alive on his last two holes, the eight and ninth. He scrambled and made an 8-foot putt for par on No. 8 and chipped in on No. 9.
“I felt like I drove it really well, even the last hole I hit a really good drive,” Johnson said. “It went just through the fairway and so I kind of had to play over to the left because I didn’t know how it was going to come out. Obviously, I made a really nice chip in there.
“I would have taken just an up-and-down and that would have been just fine with me, but, yeah, I hit a really good chip and it just got to the hole and went in. So, yeah, it definitely ended the day on a good note.”
That last hole, the par-4 ninth, is the tale of the two South Carolinians’ round. Johnson chipped in for birdie after a bad drive; Kisner made double bogeys from the middle of the fairway.
“Not great,” Kisner said in summing up his round. “I got it back to 1-under-par and screwed up the last hole” and shot 1-over-72.
On the ninth, he drove 299 yards into the fairway, then put his second from 200 yards into the pond right of the green. After a penalty, he dropped into the native area, chipped on and two-putted for double.
“The course is playing tough,” he said. “I hit a lot of good iron shots. Just screwed up the last hole.”
They will be in the same group again Friday afternoon, Johnson brimming with confidence and Kisner again looking to regain the magic touch.
Chip shot: Johnson’s on-course accomplishments and off-course community service were recognized after his round Thursday. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster presented Johnson with the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor.