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After 45 events we finally reach the last PGA Tour tournament of 2015, The RSM Classic at Sea Island Resort. Formerly The McGladrey Classic, this tournament is popular with lots of the golfing community who reside (or have a practice base) here on Sea Island or on the adjoining St Simon's Island - after all, it's always handy to have a full PGA Tour tournament worth $5,700,000 on your doorstep! So names like reigning Open Champion Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Jonathan Byrd, Harris English, Lucas Glover, Brian Harman, Charles Howell III, Chris Kirk (winner here in 2013), Patton Kizzire, Brandt Snedeker, Hudson Swafford and tournament host Davis Love III will be spending a well-deserved tournament week in their own beds.
It's worth noting, however, that the local knowledge doesn't stop there as Blayne Barber, Jonas Blixt, Scott Brown, Stewart Cink, Brendon De Jonge, Luke Guthrie, Henrik Norlander, Kyle Reifers, Wes Roach, John Rollins, Michael Thompson and Johnson Wagner all regularly use the Sea Island Golf Performance Center. Knowledge of Sea Island resort also stretches to a large number of players who studied and played college golf in Southeastern Conference (SEC) universities.
2015 sees some significant changes apart from just the switch of sponsor from McGladrey to RSM (audit, tax and consulting firm) who have signed a deal through to 2020. A field of 156 players will be seen on Sea Island for the first time, facilitated by the addition of the Plantation Course. As per the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines where the field is split across both South (host) and North courses across the opening two rounds, each player this week will get to play both the host Seaside Course (Par 70) and Plantation Course (Par 72) over the first two days before the Seaside Course takes centre stage over the weekend.
The European Tour's Race to Dubai reaches its traditional climax this week at the Earth Course in Dubai. The DP World Tour Championship features series leader Rory McIlroy plus of course his nearest challengers Danny Willett, Justin Rose, Shane Lowry, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace. Paul Williams has cast his eye over the action in Dubai and you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: We enter new ground with the RSM Classic this week. A new sponsor and an extended 156 player field has meant the introduction of a second course into the tournament format, namely the Plantation Course which sits next door to the Seaside Course on St Simon's Island. 18 holes of action across Thursday and Friday will be split across the 2 courses with the Seaside Course hosting the final 36 holes of action. The Seaside Course is, as you'd expect, a links-type test. Seaside is an original Harry Colt design which in 1998 had a Tom Fazio re-design where the original 'Marshside' and 'Seaside' sets of 9 later were merged. It's a true rarity - an American links-style course with man-made sand dunes, ridges and elevation fluctuations. The course is a short, 7,005 yard Par 70 featuring Bermudagrass fairways and rough (average 2") as well as pretty grainy TifDwarf Bermudagrass greens that will run at close to 11 on the Stimpmeter.
Seaside Course, St Simon's Island, Georgia: Designer: Colt & Allison, 1928, Fazio re-design, 1998; Course Type: Coastal, Resort; Par: 70; Length: 7,005 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 9; Fairways Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2"; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft TifDwarf Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 10.5ft - 11ft. Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.28 (-0.72), Difficulty Rank 36 of 49 courses. 2013: 70.26 (+0.26), Difficulty Rank 21 of 43 courses. 2014: 69.42 (-0.58), Difficulty Rank 28 of 52.
Plantation Course, St Simon's Island, Georgia: Designer: Walter Travis, 1926, Rees Jones renovation, 1998;, Course Type: Coastal, Classical; Par: 72; Length; 7,058 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 11; Fairways Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2"; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft TifDwarf Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 10.5ft - 11ft.
Course Overview: The host Seaside Course is a links-style test, but don't be fooled - you'd expect a technical challenge, but effectively the main defence of the course, which is barely 7,000 yards in length, is the weather from the Atlantic. Wide, soft fairways and green complexes that average 7,000 sq.ft. make the Seaside Course extremely susceptible to birdie-making for those that can putt well on the grainy TifDwarf Bermudagrass putting surface. The greens themselves are quite a challenge as any putt within 10 feet is testing and difficult to read - especially for those that don't get on with grainy Bermuda carpet. Despite strongish winds forecast from Friday onwards, low rounds in the mid-sixties will be more than possible.
The unknown quantity is the Plantation Course. The Rees Jones renovation is described by the designer as being a "parkland by the sea" - fairways are tree-lined and the course certainly has a classical Carolina feel to it. However tidal creeks and lakes are in play across the majority of holes so mistakes will prove costly. Plantation boasts expansive fairways and, at 7,058 yards, this Par 72 - which features three reachable Par 5s - could potentially be a birdie-fest for those lucky enough to play the course on Thursday (weather dependant).
Asked about Plantation last year, Chris Kirk had these views. "I think it would play great. The Plantation course score‑wise would be just as tough if not tougher, depending if they set it up how they definitely can. So we'll see. The Plantation course is a great golf course, but Seaside is a really, really, really great golf course, I think."
Winners: 2014: Robert Streb (-14); 2013: Chris Kirk (-14); 2012: Tommy Gainey (-16); 2011: Ben Crane (-16); 2010: Heath Slocum (-14).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published RSM Classic predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left-hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Matt Kuchar (No1), Zach Johnson, Justin Thomas, Robert Streb and Kevin Kisner.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the KLM Open and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2014: Streb 75/1; 2013: Kirk 50/1; 2012: Gainey 200/1; 2011: Crane 66/1; 2010: Slocum 50/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for St Simons Island is here. The south east Atlantic coast of Georgia is set for typically autumnal conditions, some of which will definitely affect the players. A deluge of 104 mm of rain last Sunday/Monday left Berry Collett and his ground crew with plenty of work to do to get both courses Tour ready. Soft conditions look the order of the day, especially as heavy thunderstorms are predicted to hit St Simon's Island across Wednesday night, which could in turn affect play on Thursday. From there on in, rain and electrical storms should not be a feature, but typical sea breezes (from the north-east) will be. Conditions will be beautifully sunny, with temperatures up to 19 degrees Celsius Friday/Saturday, dropping to 17 degrees on Sunday.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 5 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how the Seaside course (as host course the players will still play 54 holes here) sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Zach Johnson: "What they've done is added a lot of sand to the fairways over the last year and it helps with the drainage, helps with the run‑out and that sort of thing. I played here about a week ago, and we had an inch and a half of rain. That's a lot of rain. I was getting some plugged lies. I played two days after that and I played nine holes, and it was starting to roll out already. They've done some nice things with the fairways. The greens have always been perfect. They're difficult because they're undulated and they're kind of table‑topped somewhat, but they still hold, so it's going to be a great test. The rough is brutal."
Brian Harman: "I struck it nice, got some putts to go in. I think statistically which is one of the hardest plays to putt on TOUR. The grain is very difficult to read here. I was pleased to make some 10‑ to 15‑footers, some nice mid‑range putts and when you feel like you're rolling it well you don't have to be quite as aggressive coming into the green, so I was playing a lot of shots to the fat side of the green and just gave myself good looks and was fortunate enough to make a few of them."
Russell Henley: "The other morning in the pro am, I was hitting it at least a club shorter, and you know, into the wind, into the cold wind, it was playing almost two, and if you hit a normal shot, it'll spin back into you, so you gotta hit some half shots, so it's kind of a weird‑‑ you almost gotta take two more clubs and hit it three‑quarter shots just to keep it under the wind, so I'd say I was pulling on average two more clubs in the morning. I don't know. I just confused myself on that one, too."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 5 winners:
The McGladrey in 2010-2012 formed part of the PGA Tour Fall Series with the 2013 renewal being played in November as part of the first wrap-around season structure. Every winner of the tournament had played a Tour tournament post-East Lake. In essence that means that players such as Bill Haas and Zach Johnson could be at a disadvantage this week. It's also interesting to see that inaugural McGladrey champion Heath Slocum had captured The Barclays title 13 months previously in 2009. Of all the winners on the Seaside course, nobody has won in the calendar year prior to triumphing here. Tommy Gainey and Robert Streb both captured their first main Tour titles here in 2012 and 2014 respectively.
I covered off many of the resident, Sea Island Golf Performance Center and SEC links at the top of this Preview. Local links are numerous, but a couple of additional themes jump out for this tournament. Two winners - namely Slocum and Kirk - resided in the home state of Georgia when winning this title. Other winners have hailed from Texas (Crane), South Carolina (Gainey) and Florida (Streb). Of these Streb was the least experienced PGA Tour wise, as he was entering his 3rd season here 12 months ago.
Key Bookmaker Offers:
My selections are as follows:
We were on board Kevin Kisner here last year when he delivered his best PGA Tour finish up until that point of 4th at 100/1. Georgia Bulldog Kisner will be taking the short trip down IS 95 from South Carolina in good spirits this week after starting the season with pay cheques at TPC Summerlin and Kuala Lumpur, followed by an inspirational performance at Sheshan where he was only beaten by Russell Knox. 2015 has been quite phenomenal for Kisner with 2nd place finishes at Harbour Town, TPC Sawgrass, Old White TPC and in China a fortnight ago boosting him to 25th in the Official Golf World Rankings. Naturally he's now being tagged with the 'bridesmaid' label, but undoubtedly the 31 year-old has the ability and the mental fortitude to win and it could be as soon as this week.
KK is now in his 5th season on Tour and he's undoubtedly one of the brightest putters and birdie-makers on the circuit right now. Comfortable on shorter formats, on receptive courses and in the wind, Kisner honed his skills on Bermudagrass greens around these parts. Asked earlier this season about his strengths, Kisner replied "Early this year I wasn't getting the finishes but probably my weakest parts of my game was always my ball striking out here and I saw that I was putting terribly early in this year but the ball striking was there. I said, as soon as the putter gets going and I get back to the south where I can actually putt, I think it's going to be good. And it kind of clicked that way."
Rested after a slight back strain after 3 straight weeks of action earlier this autumn and with plenty of local support on tap, I think that Kevin will be gunning for that first PGA Tour victory this week. RESULT: Winner
Equally as obvious as Kevin Kisner this week is Georgia-born and University of Georgia (yes another!) product Russell Henley. We were on board at TPC Summerlin a couple of weeks ago when the 26 year-old came up just short with a 10th place finish at altitude. That's a great sign as Henley returns to his native home state and the Bermudagrass greens that he loves. A winner of the web.com Stadion Classic as an amateur at his home University of Georgia Golf Course back in 2011, Henley followed that up with a couple of successes in his first season as a professional in 2012. A win at TPC River's Bend (Russell Knox and Tommy Gainey have won here as well) in Ohio was soon followed by a victory on Bermudagrass on the Dye's Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass in Florida 3 weeks later. Henley then announced his promotion to the main Tour by claiming the 2013 Sony Open at Waialae in his first PGA Tour event as a professional with an imperious display where he shot an incredible -23/257 to beat a strong field in Honolulu.
Primarily a fantastic putter, Russell has undoubtedly become a more all-round player throughout the 2015 campaign, plus he's great in soft conditions and his prowess in the wind cannot be doubted after his 2nd PGA Tour title at PGA National in 2014 where he beat Rory McIlroy in a play-off. Shot 63 here in Round 2 last year to lead after 36 holes and after a 3rd Round 68 in interview he mentioned "I've played this course a bunch of times before this tournament, and feel comfortable out there, so I'm just going to try to keep doing what I'm doing." RESULT: T6
70/1 about another Georgia Bulldog, Brian Harman, was first quoted by bet365 Tuesday morning and that was rightfully snapped up in a matter of minutes. Patience is often a virtue in golf betting, so after a disappointing 40th place finish at El Camaleon last week I'm more than prepared to stick with the St Simon's Island resident this week at his home tournament. Detailed reasoning is hardly required based on his inclusion for the second straight week, but Brian is a cracking wind player whose ball-striking and all-round play at present make him a prime candidate when tied in with his depth of course knowledge across both courses this week. Event form of 27-10-41 hides some interesting snippets as he was 2nd after 36 holes here 12 months ago after rounds of 65/67 and in 12 competitive rounds here Harman has been under par in 8 of them. Multiple visits here with the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC and a local who knows both courses extremely well. RESULT: MC
My last selection of 2015 is Sean O'Hair whose progress from 474th in the OWGR to today's 120th has been a great story this year. 4-time PGA Tour winner O'Hair, who's now a Florida resident, has rejuvenated his career this term with 2nd at Copperhead (can you believe Jordan Spieth grabbed only his second victory that day in a play-off victory over O'Hair), 6th at Harbour Town (we were on board at 80/1), 12th at TPC Louisiana and 4th at TPC Boston helping to generate over $1.6 million and a run to the BMW Championship in the FedEx Cup PlayOffs. It could have been even better as O'Hair had the 54 hole lead at Old White TPC before falling back to an eventual 13th. So I'm interested to see that the 33 year-old is available at 150/1 with 6 places each-way at a tournament where he's played 4 times and finished 15th (2011), 20th (2012) and 17th (2014). A strong Bermudagrass putter is required here at Sea Island and, believe it or not, there have been few better in 2015 than O'Hair. So it will be interesting to see how Sean - who has Top 5 finishes by the coast at Kapalua and Waialae supported by a couple of Top 10s at Harbour Town - will go with a far more confident putting stroke at a tournament where the winning total should be just about perfect for him. RESULT: T18
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