Kevin Kisner was playing with his nine-month-old daughter on the floor of his home in Aiken, S.C., Wednesday when the PGA TOUR called. He had started the week as the 10th alternate, but at 6 p.m., through a series of events a spot had opened and he was next on the list.
A friend with a plane got him to Orlando late last night â€“ saving him from a seven-hour drive â€“ and without the benefit of a practice round, Kisner was able to shoot a respectable 3-under-par 69 in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard.
"If I don't shoot 3under [today], I'm going to learn my new strategy: just don't play your practice rounds and sleep about four hours," Kisner joked.
Kisner, 31, replaced world No. 2 Bubba Watson, who withdrew Wednesday because of the death of a close friend, a fellow University of Georgia golfer, David Miller. Kisner also attended Georgia and knew Miller and knew how close he and Watson were. "It's just a really sad deal."
Nevertheless, Kisner so far is making the most of his opportunity. He has struggled of late, finishing no better than T-51 in his last eight starts and missing four cuts since he finished T-4 at the McGladrey Classic in October. The key to the day was converting a couple of long birdie putts, including a 45-footer on the third hole, which helped offset two bogeys.
"First time I made putts all year," he said. "It's a great golf course. Had a great group, really enjoyed it and look forward to tomorrow."
In other news from the opening round:
Defending FedExCup champion Billy Horschel's 4-under 68 included a three-putt from just three feet, eight inches. On the next hole he hit his tee shot in the water but saved par with a 15-footer. Such is the way a golf round flows. "It's ironic, the holes that look like I [should] make par I make bogeys or worse. The holes it looked like high numbers I made par," he said.
Two of the top scorers Thursday, Adam Scott and Kevin Na, each employ the claw grip for most of their putts but still use a conventional grip on longer tries. Na started using the claw at the start of the Florida swing. "Early this year I was messing with the claw. At Miami I found something that works," said Na, who has top-10 finishes in his last two starts. "I'm going to keep doing it."
Sam Saunders, who owns multiple club championships at Bay Hill, opened with 2-under 70 to begin his sixth appearance in the tournament. A PGA TOUR rookie, Saunders is seeking his third straight top-25 finish this week.
-- Dave Shedloski