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Kevin Chappell has done everything but win

November 17, 2016

Offer one mulligan to Kevin Chappell for the last year and the rules are bound to be broken.

He mentioned the tee shot on the 18th hole at Bay Hill that was buried in deep rough and forced him to lay up, and he finished one shot behind Jason Day. He mentioned the tee shot on the 17th hole at East Lake that missed the fairway by two steps and sunk to the bottom of the Bermuda rough, leading to an untimely bogey at the Tour Championship that cost him the lead.

Halfway through talking about the tee shot on the 18th in regulation at East Lake, he was reminded he could take only one shot back.

''I know, I know,'' Chappell replied.

''How about 18 at Bay Hill?'' he said after a long pause. ''If I handled that situation differently, maybe the other two don't happen.''

It's easy to think about everything that didn't go Chappell's way over the last year because he is still searching for his first PGA Tour victory going into the RSM Classic at Sea Island, the final official PGA Tour event of the year.

The 30-year-old Californian doesn't see it that way.

He was runner-up three times against some of the strongest fields, losing to the top two players in the world without doing much wrong. Jason Day beat him at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship, and Rory McIlroy beat Chappell and Ryan Moore at the Tour Championship.

Chappell rose to No. 28 in the world and went places he had never been. He played in the World Golf Championships for the first time, at the Bridgestone Invitational (tie for third behind Dustin Johnson) and the HSBC Champions. He made his inaugural trip to the British Open. He'll make his debut in the Masters next year.

Missing from that itinerary is Kapalua for the winners-only Tournament of Champions.

''The competitor in me never wants to get that close that many times and not close,'' Chappell said. ''In the long run, that might be a great thing.''

He mentioned the patience of Steve Stricker and the relatively slow start by Day, the No. 1 player in the world who won just one time in his first six years on tour. Chappell finished last season at No. 8 on the money list with just over $4.5 million.

It's hard to get hung up on the negatives.

''It can never be a bad thing to play that much good golf,'' Chappell said.

If he were to win this week - he was runner-up a year ago to Kevin Kisner - he won't go to Kapalua because his wife, Elizabeth, is due to give birth to their second child in January. Chappell's final event of the year is the Franklin Templeton Shootout, another perk to having a big year.

His partner is Kisner, which is only fitting. Few players can appreciate the kind of year Chappell had.

When he showed up at Sea Island last year, Kisner had been runner-up four times over the previous seven months without doing much wrong. Rickie Fowler beat him in a playoff at The Players Championship. So did Jim Furyk at Hilton Head. He lost another playoff at Greenbrier, and Russell Knox beat him in Shanghai.

Kisner saw only good golf, and he blew away everyone at Sea Island to win by six shots.

''If you keep doing what you're doing and you keep putting yourself in that position, you're going to win one,'' Kisner said. ''It's just a matter of time. You've got to stay patient. He's a hell of a player and he's going to win plenty of times on tour in the next few years.''

Chappell had a one-shot lead when his tee shot on the 18th at Bay Hill found the rough, and by the time he faced his 25-foot par putt, Day made a birdie on the 17th to catch him and then won with a par on the 18th. Chappell birdied the 16th at the Tour Championship for a two-shot lead. But his tee shot in the rough forced him to lay up (bogey), McIlroy made birdie in front of him to tie for the lead and Chappell's tee shot on the par-5 18th kept him from a reasonable birdie chance for the win.

His final-round score in his runner-up finishes over the last year: 67, 69, 69, 66.

So when he looks back - at moments, not trophies - he has no qualms declaring this a good year.

''I'd be doing myself a disservice to look at it negatively,'' he said. ''And there's stuff to look forward to as I sit here today.''

A baby in January. His first Masters in April.

And right ahead of him is one last chance to leave no doubt what kind of year it has been.

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