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After 47 events we finally reach the last PGA Tour tournament of 2016, 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 a record $6,000,000 on your doorstep. So names like Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Jonathan Byrd, Harris English, Brian Harman, Charles Howell III, Rick Lamb, Chris Kirk, Patton Kizzire, Trey Mullinax, J.T. Poston, 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, Stewart Cink, Brendon De Jonge, Billy Horschel, Kevin Kisner (defending champion), Scott Langley, Seamus Power, Kyle Reifers, Sam Saunders, Michael Thompson, Johnson Wagner and Bobby Wyatt 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.
Aside from Paddy Power who've extended to 7 places each way this week at 1/5 odds which is detailed a little further down the page, the promotion of note this week is that Sky Bet have re-launched their massively popular £10 no deposit offer for new customers. So you can have a £10 bet on any player of your choice at the RSM Classic this week with no deposit required and no other commitment:
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the DP World Tour Championship - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: 2015 saw the RSM Classic extend to a 156 player field and a 2 course format. The Plantation Course sits next door to host venue the Seaside Course on St Simon's Island. 18 holes of action across Thursday and Friday are split across the 2 courses with the Seaside Course hosting the final 36. 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. 2015: 69.31 (-0.69), Difficulty Rank 29 of 50.
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, 3"; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft TifDwarf Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 10.5ft - 11ft. Course Scoring Average: 70.81 (-1.19), Difficulty Rank 42 of 50.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Seaside Course and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
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 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.
The players also get 18 holes on the Plantation Course. The Rees Jones renovation is more of a parkland course 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 prove costly. Plantation boasts expansive fairways and, at 7,058 yards, this Par 72 - which features three reachable par-5s - is undoubtedly more of a birdie-fest than Seaside. Indeed it ranked in the top 10 easiest courses on Tour last season, although the course was particularly soft.
The key to the RSM is approach proximity and strong Bermudagrass putting. Seaside Course had the lowest One-Putt percentage on the whole 2015/16 PGA Tour. The gnarly TifDwarf Bermudagrass greens are not to every player's liking and conversion of putts from anything outside of the 10 feet is tough. That level of difficulty is not shared with Plantation, so low scoring is a must there to contend, especially as it is an incredibly short par 72 by modern day standards.
Winners: 2015: Kevin Kisner (-22); 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 tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players in the top 5 of the Predictor are Chris Kirk (Predictor number 1), Matt Kuchar, Charles Howell III, Kevin Kisner and Webb Simpson.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Barclays / Made in Denmark and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Kisner 22/1; 2014: Streb 75/1; 2013: Kirk 50/1; 2012: Gainey 200/1; 2011: Crane 66/1; 2010: Slocum 50/1. Average: 77/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for St Simons Island is here. We should see different course conditions to the 2015 renewal where plenty of rain left the course soft and receptive. True, Tropical Storm Hermine hit in September damaging the Plantation Course, but since then the course has not seen precipitation since the 8th October, so expect firmer conditions, although greens are always receptive enough. There's no threat of rain throughout the tournament and winds will be light and from the north east on Thursday and Friday. They freshen to a 20-25mph peak on Sunday with a slight change to a northwesterly direction.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 6 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 both Seaside and Plantation courses set up and what skills the course favours:
Kevin Kisner: "I'm interested to see what the scores will be tomorrow if the wind blows like they're forecasting. You know, north wind, neither course is really made to play a north wind. I think that's probably the hardest wind to play Sea Side in. So I'm hoping they move the tees up on that course like they did over here, or maybe it just doesn't blow at all and we can make a bunch of birdies."
Kevin Chappell: "Yeah, you know, Plantation course is in great shape, but the backside was tough there early. There were some pucker holes, 10 through 13. And then you can kind of get it. Obviously got me early. I played really well there the last 12 holes, last 13 holes. As we made the turn it got swirling pretty good. I drove it well today. I was in position and was able to take advantage of the soft golf course. Having two courses here brings back the feel of Disney again. It was real lax, but there was a tournament going on."
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 6 RSM Classic winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2013:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Harry Colt designs include:
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 has played a Tour tournament post-East Lake - essentially that means that 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, Robert Streb and Kevin Kisner all captured their first main Tour titles here in 2012, 2014 and 2016 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. Three winners - namely Slocum, Kirk and Kisner - 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 on Tour when winning here in 2014.
Bookmaker Offers. Only Paddy Power have extended their EW terms this week, going 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds:
My selections are as follows:
Chris Kirk is the perfect storm this week where great current form meets course form. His liking for the tournament is easy to see as he won here in 2013, finished 4th when defending in 2014 and has another 2 top-20 finishes from 6 appearances. He also sits in the top 10 for Tournament Average Score which is no mean feat as his 68.09 average has been delivered across 22 competitive rounds of golf. Born in Tennessee, Kirk attended the University of Georgia and was a successful member of the Georgia Bulldogs along with plenty of other notables in this week's field including Kisner, English, Henley and Harman. Asked when he was on his way to victory here in 2013 about his knowledge of Seaside, Kirk commented, "I mean I've played this course hundreds of times. I've seen every wind direction, every wind strength. I've seen it blow way harder than that before. I mean you know how well you gotta play to shoot a good score, but at least there's no surprises, you know exactly what to expect. I've been coming here for a long time before that when I was in school."
After a 4-week hiatus after the BMW Championship, Kirk has played Silverado, CC of Jackson, TPC Summerlin and El Camaleon in the new season and corresponding finishes of 8th, 2nd, 61st and 7th highlight a player who's both motivated and close to his very best. Even at TPC Summerlin he was 3rd after 36 holes before it all went wrong - he's still yet to finish in the top 10 at altitude. Amazingly though Kirk finds himself treading water in the OWGR so a win this week would be a great way to guarantee his Masters invite pre-Christmas. Consistent and accurate from tee-to-green, Kirk is a natural putter whose chances are obvious the week.
Kevin Chappell reminds me of Kevin Kisner 12 months ago. Kisner was within the top 25 in the OWGR and still hadn't won a PGA Tour title. Every interviewer or press reporter was asking Kisner the very same pointed questions. Great year with 6 top 10s, but why haven't you won so far? What do you need to do differently to get that first win? Are you ever going to win? Then Kisner arrived here and used a soft golf course to his advantage and took his first win at 22/1 by a 6-shot margin from one Kevin Chappell.
12 months on and Chappell sits at 28th in the OWGR. 7 top-10s across 2016 is an impressive number with 2nd at Bay Hill, 2nd at TPC Sawgrass, 3rd at WGC Bridgestone Invitational and 2nd at East Lake being the stand-out performances. Clearly Kevin has contended in some of the biggest non-Major tournaments this year and let's be frank here - he was beaten twice by World Number 1 Jason Day in Florida, freshly crowned US Open champion Dustin Johnson in Ohio and a rejuvenated Rory McIlroy in Georgia. Yes it's easy to question Kevin's mental capacity under the intense pressure of the back 9 on Sunday, but the Scottsdale resident has shot -3/69, -3/69, -3/67 and -4/66 when in the heat of battle. Undoubtedly he's developing in that area.
Chappell clearly loves this part of Georgia with 12 competitive rounds yielding 12 rounds below par. He was 2nd after 36 holes here in 2013, 8th in 2014 and runner-up here 12 months ago in a tournament where he led at halfway. Asked about his views on playing at Sea Island, Kevin responded, "Yeah, I've been in position the last - I think third year in a row I've been near the last group on the weekend. I think for me it's the sightlines work. The wind tends to blow out of one direction. There are a lot of things that are comforting to me and allow me to play well."
After solid performances in Malaysia and China expectations won't be too high and this looks to be a huge opportunity for Kevin this week.
Finally I'm going with Roberto Castro who has plenty of positives on his side at a healthy price this week. Castro attended Georgia Tech with the likes of Cameron Tringale and Chesson Hadley. Roberto has plenty of Sea Island experience going back to 2005 when, as an amateur, he finished 4th in the Jones Cup Invitational at Sea Island, contending alongside Nicholas Thompson and Bran Harman. This week Castro finds himself travelling the 300 miles from his home in Atlanta down IS-75 to Sea Island, safely ensconced in the top 70 in the OWGR. Readers may also remember his fighting 3rd at Crooked Stick in September which delivered his 2nd appearance at his home East Lake course and guaranteed appearances in the WGCs and first 3 Majors in 2017. Life's pretty good for the 31 year-old! But typically something is missing - and that is his first ever PGA Tour victory and a guaranteed 2-year exemption which goes with it. Indeed in a recent interview Castro commented that, "The fall's a really big deal. I've been thinking about this since May, just mentally preparing myself for playing this year all the way up to Sea Island.” Castro, whose swing coach John Tillery also works with Kevin Kisner, is hitting the ball really accurately at the moment and, as ever with him, if the putter fires this week then I can see him having an excellent week on the Georgia coast.
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel