AIKEN - Last year, golfer Kevin Kisner struggled with his ball-striking and his self-confidence entering the Southern Cross Invitational.
After rounds of 79-83, Kisner proclaimed the tournament to be the worst in his high school career. But on Friday, the South Aiken junior turned his game around.
Kisner fired an even-par 71 to help lead the Thoroughbreds to a nine-shot lead over Greenwood entering today's final round of the 27th annual event at Palmetto Golf Club.
"Knowing this is my home course and knowing that I should playing well here and then playing terrible last year, I really wanted to come out and play good," Kisner said.
Kisner, along with teammates Alex Hamilton (72) and Dane Burkhart (73), put South Aiken in first place after 18 holes with a 3-over-par 216 total. South Aiken, a three-time winner of the event, lost to Travelers Rest by two shots last year.
"We'll take that any day," South Aiken coach Donnie Holland said of his team's score. "That's a good dadgum round there ... If we go out and shoot 3-over (today), it'd be hard to think you wouldn't win it."
Led by Emmett Turner's 72, Greenwood stands at 225. Hillcrest is 13 shots off the pace at 228, while North Augusta and Travelers Rest are tied for third at 229. Among other local teams, Augusta Prep (236) is 20 shots off the lead and is followed by Evans (240), Strom Thurmond (246) and Aiken (247).
As good as Kisner's round was, he was overtaken late in the day by Ridge View's Adam Hart, who shot a 70. Corbett Cummings (Christ Church Episcopal), Nicki Biershenk (Boiling Springs) and Scott Brown (North Augusta) all are two shots back at 72.
Kisner, who along with Hamilton is a Palmetto Club member, used his course knowledge after going 3-over through eight holes. On the par-3 ninth hole, Kisner hit his tee shot to six feet and dropped the birdie putt. After making short birdie putts on Nos. 10 and 12, Kisner put his 3-wood approach to within 10 feet on the par-5 14th and then drained the eagle putt.
"I was hitting the ball great on the first eight holes; I just wasn't going scoring well," he said. "Then I hit it close on nine, and it got me going."
Southern Cross High School Tournament
Palmetto Golf Club, Aiken
Team:216-South Aiken, 225-Greenwood, 228-Hillcrest, 229-North Augusta, Travelers Rest 229, 230-Ridge View, Spartanburg, 234-Christ Church Episcopal, Hilton Head , 235-Emerald, Gaffey, 236-Augusta Prep, Easley, 237-Irmo, 238-Dorman, 240- Evans, 241-Boiling Springs, Waccamaw, 243-Central, 246-Strom Thurmond, 247- Aiken, 249-T.L. Hanna, 253-Seneca, Spring Valley, 258-J.L. Mann
Top 10, ties
Adam Hart, Ridge View
Kevin Kisner, South Aiken
Corbett Cummings, Christ Church
Nicki Biershenk, Boiling Springs
Alex Hamilton, South Aiken
Scott Brown, North Augusta
Emmett Turner, Greenwood
Dane Burkhart, South Aiken
Brian Duncan, Travelers Rest
Chase Talbert, Emerald
Tim Ferguson, Hilton Head
Stephen Poole, Spartanburg
Other of interest
75-David Grainger, Aiken (36-39); 76-Paul Trotter, Augusta Prep (38-38); 77-Ryan Rushton, Strom Thurmond (39-38); 77-Nick Bradley, North Augusta (38-39); 77-Patrick Cunning, South Aiken (38-39); 79-Zac Tilton, Evans (38-41); 79-Kris Shepard, Evans (38-41); 79-Thomas Brown, Barnwell (41-38); 80-Casey Thompson, North Augusta (39-41); Wesley Carter, North Augusta (42-38); Kenan Yount, Augusta Prep (40-40), Mason McKnight, Augusta Prep (38-42)
81-Sam Nicholson, Augusta Prep (42-39); 82-Bobby Connor, Evans (40-42); 84-Chris Blackburn, Evans (39-45); Josh Jackson, Strom Thurmond (41-43); 85-Nick Lard, Aiken (41-44); Will Miller, Strom Thurmond (41-44); 87-Will Costigan, Aiken (42-45); 88-Thomas Costigan, Aiken (43-45); 92-Wes Herlong, Strom Thurmond (47-45).
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222.