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After 47 events, we finally reach the last PGA Tour tournament of 2017 - the now traditional year-ender RSM Classic at Sea Island Resort. Thanks to all readers, listeners and watchers of our content across 2017 - it's great to have had you on board this year!
Formerly The McGladrey Classic, the RSM Classic 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 $6,200,000 on your doorstep. So names like Jonathan Byrd, Harris English, Brian Harman, Charles Howell III, Zach Johnson, Rick Lamb, Chris Kirk, Patton Kizzire, Matt Kuchar, Keith Mitchell, 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, Brendon De Jonge, Kevin Kisner (defending champion), Seamus Power, Sam Saunders, Michael Thompson, Johnson Wagner and Nick Watney 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.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the DP World Tour Championship - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Coral are offering 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds at the RSM Classic. When it comes to full-field events across both the European Tour and PGA Tour, 7 places each way is standard practice for Coral. New customers get 4x £/€5 free bets when they join Coral and bet just £/€5. You must be over 18, T&Cs apply:
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 would 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.
Sea Island Resort, 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. 2016: 68.89 (-1.11), Difficulty Rank 35 of 50.
Sea Island Resort, 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 2015: 70.81 (-1.19), Difficulty Rank 42 of 50 courses. 2016: 69.76 (-2.34), Difficulty Rank of 48 of 50.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the Seaside Course and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Harry Colt designs include:
For research purposes, other Tom Fazio designs include:
Fazio has also had re-design input into:
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 surfaces. 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 3 easiest courses on Tour last season.
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 and ranked 4th for the same category last term. The gnarly TifDwarf Bermudagrass greens are not to every player's liking and conversion of putts from anything outside of 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: 2016: Mackenzie Hughes (-17); 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 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 Webb Simpson, Chesson Hadley, Zach Johnson, Brian Harman and Kevin Streelman.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Omega Masters tournament and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Hughes 250/1; 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: 102/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for St Simons Island is here. Scoring is sure to be low this week. Greens here are always prepared to be receptive and the forecast looks favourable. 20 degree Celsius temperatures on Thursday and Friday climb to 24 degrees for Saturday. Light breeze will be a feature across the opening 2 days making a very fast start essential. It stiffens a little for Saturday though and Sunday sees a sea change as a low pressure rolls through the area and winds grow to a gusting 20 mph as the temperature falls to a maximum of 15 degrees Celsius.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 7 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 Seaside 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 7 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:
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 Kevin Kisner and Brandt Snedeker 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, Kevin Kisner and Mackenzie Hughes all captured their first main Tour titles here in 2012, 2014, 2015 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), North Carolina (Hughes) and Florida (Streb). Of these Mackenzie really threw a curve-ball at this from a betting perspective 12 months ago when he won on only his sixth PGA Tour appearance.
For another route in, I've also looked at other events played in this part of the world. The Jones Cup Invitational is played in February and is part of the Amateur World Rankings. The Jones Cup, since its inception from 2001 - 2016, has been played just up the coast from Sea Island Resort at the Ocean Forest Golf Club. I've listed those who have finished in the top 20 in the Jones Cup since 2009 who are in this week's field. Some of the names have featured in this previously:
Jones Cup Results
Southeastern Conference (SEC) university golf is also played on the actual Seaside Course every year:
SEC Individual Results
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
As I've already mentioned, a man from Georgia has won this event 3 times - namely Slocum, Kirk and Kisner. It isn't too far of a jump to suggest that Scott Brown may well add to this tally. We backed Brown in Las Vegas after he'd finished 5th in South Korea (not far from the coast) and I'm going down exactly the same road this week on a coastal track which is more his cup of tea. Brown has always been comfortable in the wind and as we know he's a streaky player who can string together contending performances one after the other. 2017 has seen Scott take huge belief from the performances of his best friend on Tour, Kevin Kisner, and he's undoubtedly made big strides this year. 2nd at Riviera, 2nd with team-mate Kevin Kisner at TPC Louisiana, a best ever major finish of 13th at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in August, 5th after 54 holes at the BMW Championship at Conway Farms (finished 20th), 5th in Korea and 6th last week at the OHL Classic. Wins have never come easily for Kisner and Scott seems to be in the same mould, but Brown's record across Coco Beach Resort (1st 2013 plus 2 top-5s), Harbour Town (5th 2014) and El Camaleon (5th plus last week's 6th) are pretty spot-on from a correlating course from perspective. 4th here in 2013 saw Scott finish 4th for Strokes Gained Putting and you just get the feeling that whilst some at the top of the betting have an easy week, Brown will be 100% focussed to double his PGA Tour win tally. RESULT: MC
Si-Woo Kim must be a threat here this week. The South Korean, who's a 2-time PGA Tour winner in the past 15 months, is finding some form at the close of 2017 and after a fist-pumping performance at The Presidents Cup, his play on the Caribbean Sea coast last week was a perfect warm-up for the Sea Island Resort test. 6th for Total Driving, 11th for Ball Striking, 3rd for Scrambling, 8th for Putts per Round and 1st for All-Round was undoubtedly his best performance since he won the Players Championship back in May. 1 eagle, 17 birdies, 2 bogeys (across his first 67 holes) and a double bogey on Sunday's 14th hole, when pushing hard to close the gap to Patton Kizzire, was good enough for a confidence-boosting 3rd place.
Victories at Sedgefield in August last year and his huge victory at TPC Sawgrass 6 months ago highlight a player who's at his very best on Bermudagrass set-ups. Si-Woo jumped into the spotlight around this time 24 months ago when in his rookie season he shot 68-64 to sit 3rd after 36 holes at El Camaleon before eventually finishing 17th. Next stop was Sea Island where he shot 66-72-67-68 for a -9/273 total which was good enough for another morale-boosting 18th place. But for a quadruple on the Seaside Course on Friday, 18th would have actually been good enough for 4th spot, so Kim clearly liked the set-up here in Georgia. 4th at 2016 Sony Open at Waialae and 9th the week after at the CareerBuilder Challenge also highlight a serious liking for TifDwarf Bermudagrass greens which we'll see this week. RESULT: MC
Those with 'creeping' form often get in the mix here, i.e. form that doesn't jump off the page on first inspection, but actually is telling a trending story. With gusting 20 mph winds forecast across Saturday and Sunday, having a quality wind player on board isn't a terrible strategy. William McGirt with form of 25 (Sanderson Farms)-10 (Shriners) seems to be warming to the task at the moment after a 2017 campaign which flattered to deceive. Remember this is a player who in the 2015/16 season delivered his first PGA Tour win at Muirfield Village, finished 10th at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, made it to the Tour Championship and made the OWGR top 50. So a campaign last season which only included 9th at Kapalua (he was 3rd after 54 holes) and 3rd at Harbour Town was a definite down-turn for the 38 year old from Spartanburg, South Carolina. However a much needed 2 months off has seen William return with a little more swagger in his stride - 45th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 15th for Strokes Gained Putting, 33rd for All-Round and 6th for Bogey Avoidance in the embryonic PGA Tour season stats make for good reading. But I also like McGirt as his 69-68 across the weekend in Las Vegas was good enough for tied 5th in the field - level with Cantlay and Hadley - plus his CV contains plenty of excellent performances by the coast. A steady hand on the tiller might be just what's needed this week on the eastern seaboard and McGirt fits that bill perfectly. RESULT: T8
A look at the Jones Cup Invitational results at nearby Ocean Forest Golf Club is interesting. Players such as Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Victor Dubuisson, Kyle Stanley, Paul Dunne and Austin Connelly have had great success there in an event which in late February is not for the faint-hearted. With more reference to this week, I'm also seeing the likes of Blayne Barber (2nd here last year), Henrik Norlander (2nd last year), C.T. Pan (6th last year) and Patrick Rodgers (10th last year) across the top 16 of leaderboards. Beau Hossler had been much hyped before he hit the PGA Tour this season - leading the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club midway through the 2nd Round as an amateur creates hype, and to this point 2017 is showing what talent the Austin, Texas resident truly has. Since June, 2nd at the Air Capital Classic, 2nd at the LECOM Challenge (Mackenzie Hughes was 5th there last year) and, since his promotion to the PGA Tour, 10th at the Sanderson Farms and 7th at the Shriners shows what kind of talent we're dealing with here. Beau was 3rd after 54 holes in Jackson, a tournament where he shot -3/69 in the worst of the wind, and in Las Vegas he shot a field-leading -5/66 in the teeth of the Saturday wind to take a step further and lead after 54 holes. Hossler is yet to convert on a Sunday, but the talented putter - 26th for Strokes Gained Putting so far this season - seems a natural fit for this. An opening -5/67 around the North Course at Torrey Pines in February - and more pertinently a winner of the Jones Cup in February 2016 - would suggest that Beau has the tools to be prominent again this week. RESULT: T70
We were on Brian Stuard last week at El Camaleon where he finished a single shot away from the extended each way places and I'm going to be patient with the Fort Worth, Texas-based 34 year-old who's playing phenomenal golf right now. A streaky scorer who clearly thrives on Bermudagrass and Paspalum putting surfaces, Stuard is also a strong coastal player. He can also string together results on his favourite putting surfaces. Take the 2013/14 season where he finished 2nd at El Camaleon (season closer), 6th at Waialae (TifDwarf bermudagrass greens) and 5th at PGA West (TifDwarf Bermudagrass with Poa Trivialis greens). Already this season we've seen 4th at Jackson CC, powered by an opening round -5/67, and 9th last week at El Camaleon, where he finished like a train with a closing round -6/65 on Sunday. 15th (2010) and 25th (2015) here across 5 appearances encourages and his 2010 effort was interesting as he was 5th after 54 holes. Now far more accustomed to the PGA Tour and a winner to boot at TPC Louisiana in 2015, as I wrote last week Stuard's ball-striking right now is top drawer. If the putter can stay hot this week then he has real chances in a state where he also finished 2nd on the web.com Tour back in 2012. RESULT: T22
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