How one bad swing gave Tiger, Phil, Jordan and Rickie new hope

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CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Around the treacherous finishing hole at Carnoustie, the fans groaned when Kevin Kisner's second shot landed in the infamous Barry Burn. Maybe they should have responded with a standing O instead. Maybe they should have felt like giving poor Mr. Kisner a kiss.

Nothing against the fine Southern gentleman and golfer by way of Aiken, South Carolina, and the Palmetto Golf Club, where the baked summer fairways and greens can prepare an American for the unpredictability of Scotland's high-speed links. But Kisner's miniature van de Velde-ian misadventure on the 18th Friday led to a double-bogey, dropped him into a share of the 6-under lead with Zach Johnson, and brought a couple of distinguished elders named Tiger and Phil back from the major championship dead.

Kisner had an exclusive hold on the lead at 8-under as he started the 499-yard, par-4 closing hole, and walked away with an unfortunate number for his scorecard and, frankly, a fortunate one for The Open scoreboard and a weekend that could belong to the ages -- and the aged. It would've been hard to make a case that the 40-somethings, Woods and Mickelson, were still credible threats at even-par, 8 strokes back with two rounds to go. But at 6 strokes back?

In his 2013 Open victory at Muirfield, Mickelson erased a 5-stroke deficit in the final round and won by 3. Woods' history of domination in the majors doesn't include many comeback stories, but since he has resumed his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record, it's worth noting that a 46-year-old Nicklaus trailed by six shots at the midway point of the 1986 Masters, his 18th and final major title.

A half-dozen shots after 36 holes is doable, even for graying legends planning a $10 million, winner-take-all exhibition to compensate for the real-season turf they surrendered to a fresh set of American stars.

And speaking of those 20-somethings, Kisner's wet-and-wild double gave new life to Rickie Fowler, who is only 3 strokes back, and to defending Open champ Jordan Spieth, also only 3 back. That double also put the most accomplished of all young players worldwide, Rory McIlroy, only 2 strokes back and reaching eagerly for his fifth major title and his first since 2014.

Golf needs its marquee actors on its biggest stages, and the more Rorys and Rickies and Tigers and Phils in contention, the better. Kisner's flawed choices on the 18th opened the door for more delicious weekend theater. Off the tee, he hit driver into the rough stuff, then decided his 8-iron would cover the 150 yards needed to carry the burn.

"But it just came out like a high flop shot to the right," Kisner said. "It was weird. I don't know if it caught something or what happened. You never know out of that grass."

The morning Scottish rain had given way to Southern California-style sunshine, but the grass was still wet enough and stubborn enough to send Kisner's approach into the same hazard that cost Jean van de Velde the Claret Jug in 1999. Kisner handled the double-bogey like a pro, and for good reason: He has won twice on the PGA Tour. He has contended in a major (last summer's PGA Championship). He has earned a current ranking of 33rd in the world. In other words, the guy can really play.

But at 34, Kisner is another anonymous face to the average American football-basketball-baseball fan who cares about golf only four weeks a year. If he could prop up Woods and Mickelson, and increase the odds of a Rory vs. Rickie vs. Jordan final-round showdown by dropping one into Barry Burn, hey, by all means -- burn, baby, burn.

Nothing personal, just business. Before he left the premises, Woods assumed, incorrectly, that he would wake up Saturday facing at least a 7-stroke deficit. "It will be a pretty packed leaderboard," Tiger said, "and I'm certainly right there in it."

Mickelson expressed a similar degree of faith in his chances. Asked if he felt he was out of the tournament, he said, "No, you never know. A lot of strange things happen here, especially with the weather. It may or may not come in. We've seen a lot of crazy things in this tournament take place."

One wayward swing -- Kisner's second on the 18th -- made the weekend possibilities at Carnoustie pretty crazy. What was bad for the solo leader after 35 holes was good for the sport, and for everyone who is hoping desperately to see a Sunday clash of titans they will never forget.