We're off to Sea Island, Georgia this week where many of the PGA Tour's stars reside. Will we get another local winner at the RSM Classic again this year? Read what Steve thinks here with his comprehensive preview...
"Like the Shriners winner, Rod Pampling, local resident, Michael Thompson, won on the Web.com Tour this year to return to the main Tour and I can see him going well this week."
The RSM Classic, formerly known as the McGladrey Classic, was first staged as recently as 2010 so this is just the seventh renewal.
Originally staged at the Seaside Course alone, the tournament became a two-course tournament last year which meant an increased field size.
Competitors will play both the Plantation Course and the Seaside Course in rotation over the first two days, with the Seaside Course being used for both the third and fourth rounds after the cut.
Sea Island Resort (Seaside), Sea Island, Georgia.
Par 72, 7,058 yards
Stroke index in 2015 - 70.81
Originally designed by Walter Travis in 1926, the Plantation Course was renovated in 1998 by Rees Jones, who describes the course as "parkland by the sea".
At just a little over 7,000 yards and described as having expansive fairways, I thought the Plantation would yield lower scores than it did last year but with water in play on ten holes, it wasn't quite as easy as I'd expected it to be.
The Plantation Course averaged 70.81 over the first two rounds, which equates to 1.19 strokes under-par and the Seaside Course averaged 69.62, which equals 0.38 under-par so the Plantation Course played 0.81 of a stroke easier over the course of the two days. It will be interesting to see if the difference is just as minimal this time around.
Par 70, 7,055 yards
Stroke index in 2015 - 69.42
Originally made up of two separate nine hole courses - a 1929 Colt and Alison classic and a Joe Lee 1973 creation called the Marchside Nine, the Seaside Course was created in 1999 when Tom Fazio combined the two. Positioned right on the southern tip of St. Simons Island this sea-side links style Bermuda grass course is susceptible to very windy conditions and very different to the parkland style Plantation Course.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - beginning on Thursday at 18:30.
First Six Winners
2010 - Heath Slocum -14
2011 - Ben Crane -15 (playoff)
2012 - Tommy Gainey -16
2013 - Chris Kirk -14 (playoff)
2014 - Robert Streb -14 (playoff)
2015 - Kevin Kisner -22
What Will it Take to Win the RSM Classic?
Length off the tee is absolutely irrelevant this week. Last year's winner, Kevin Kisner, ranked 53rd for Driving Distance and the top-eight on the leaderboard averaged 47.8. Over the first six years, the average DD ranking of the six winners is 34.
Accuracy is slightly more important from the tee but that isn't exactly vital either. Kisner ranked 17th and the average Driving Accuracy ranking of the six winners is 29.5.
And here are the average rankings for all the other key stats for the six tournament winners to date.
Greens In Regulation 21.7
Putting Average 8.8
Putts per Round 5.1
Strokes Gained Putting 5 *
*SGP - last four events only
Kisner ranked number one for Putting Average and he also played the par fours better than anyone else (15-under-par). And he and the runner-up, Kevin Chappell, both made 22 birdies which was more than anyone else.
It's basically a putting competition but for those that can handle the Bermuda greens.
Is There an Angle In?
The locals do well here. Kisner went to University in Georgia and he lives in the neighbouring state of South Carolina.
The 2013 winner, Chris Kirk, who said he'd played the Seaside Course at least one hundred times previously when he won, and inaugural winner, Heath Slocum, both live in Georgia and a number of players that have gone close in the event have a connection with the area.
The problem with looking for the local angles is that you'll find plenty of them. Tournament host and Ryder Cup captain, Davis Love III, has been instrumental in getting this event up and running and he's also been the driving force behind making Sea Island a place professionals want to live and work. Here's a list of PGA Tour pros based in Sea Island.
If you're looking for courses that correlate well with the Seaside Course, you're spoilt for choice. Look at form at three other par 70 Bermuda tracks - Waialae Country Club, home of the Sony Open in Hawaii, Colonial Country Club, venue of the Dean & Deluca Invitational and TPC Southwind, which hosts the St. Jude Classic but the two I like best are the par 71 Harbour Town Links in neighbouring South Carolina, which has hosted the RBC Heritage since its inception in 1969, and PGA National - home of the Honda Classic since 2007.
The first three winners of this tournament all had a top-six finish in the RBC Heritage and an ever increasing number of players have performed well in both this event and the Honda Classic.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Kisner won at 31 last year and the two previous winners were in their 20s but with distance irrelevant, this is a tournament that gives the old guys a chance.
Having finished fourth here in 2014 and runner-up in his previous start, Kisner went off at around the 20/1 mark 12 months ago but outsiders do well here.
The first two winners, Heath Slocum and Ben Crane, both went off at around 60.059/1 to 70.069/1 and the 2013 winner, Chris Kirk, was a similar price, going off at 50.049/1, having been matched at 60.059/1 but very few backed the 2012 winner, Tommy Gainey and Robert Streb was matched at 110.0109/1 in 2014.
Kisner was the shortest priced winner and he was by some distance the easiest winner too - romping to a six stroke victory after skipping to the front during round three - but that was by some distance the dullest finish we've had so far.
If you enjoy backing an outsider on a Sunday evening who could just put in a charge form off the pace, then this is most definitely the event for you. We've only had six renewals but already we've seen winners come from five off the pace (twice) and from seven strokes back with a round to go.
Like Kisner, Heath Slocum won the inaugural event from the front but a year later, Tommy Gainey hit 60 in round four to win by a stroke, before Ben Crane came from seven shots back to win in 2012. Robert Streb began the fourth round trailing by five strokes and trading at 110.0109/1 before he went on to win in 2014 and 12 months earlier, Tim Clark very nearly did the same thing. He also began round four trading at a triple figure price and five off the lead and he was matched at just 4.03/1 after he'd shot a final round of 62 (one better than Streb and Crane). He would have made a playoff had Kirk not birdied the penultimate hole and I'll definitely be looking to side with a few from off the pace after round three again.
The Seaside Course can be split roughly into distinct thirds. The first eight holes aren't too taxing and the finish isn't hard if last year's averages are anything to go by. The par five 15th is always the easiest hole on the course and the last three 12 months ago ranked the 14th, 13th and 16th easiest. All four finishing holes averaged below par but holes nine to 14 played tough last year. Those six holes played as six of the hardest seven on the course so if you're betting in-running, what out for that sticky stretch.
Local resident and 2013 winner, Chris Kirk, is the logical favourite given how well he's been playing lately but he's definitely not for me. He failed to convert a third round lead at the Sanderson Farms Championship three weeks ago, dropped away from a great halfway position at the Shriners two weeks ago and then last week, he dropped away after leading after round one. He's clearly playing well but that's three poor efforts in-the-mix in three weeks and for that reason alone he's too short in what's a very competitive heat.
Matt Kuchar ticks all the right boxes but getting him across the line in front is notoriously tricky so I'm more than happy to pass him over and the same can be said of last year's runner-up, Kevin Chappell, who's still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour.
With seven PGA Tour wins in the last six years (including a victory at the aforementioned Harbour Town Links in 2011) Brandt Snedeker is a very obvious candidate. After a successful Ryder Cup, he dotted up at the Fiji International the following week before a poor effort in Japan so he has recent form to boost but he's not taken to venue yet.
Bill Haas, Jim Furyk and Russell Henley are all very plausible candidates and all three have already shown a liking for the venue. Haas comes here fresh off a top-four finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions event and he's the one I like best towards the front of the market but I'm happy to leave him out too.
This is a really tough tournament to assess and with a bumper field of 156 it's a more competitive event than any of the Fall Series tournaments played to date this season, so I'm taking it really easy before the off. I have a few outsiders I'm looking to side with but I'm as yet unmatched on most so I'll either update this preview before the off, if I add any more, or I'll kick off the In-Play Blog early.
The only player I've been matched on so far is local resident and Web.com Tour graduate, Michael Thompson. Like the Shriners winner, Rod Pampling, Thompson won on the Web.com Tour this year to return to the main Tour and I can see him going well this week.
His only PGA Tour win came at the aforementioned Honda Classic and he's contended here before too. He led with a round to go before finishing third here in 2011 and he led after round one in 2014. He missed the cut here last year but in his three previous outings he finished 3rd, 10th and 66th and on each occasion he opened up with a 65 so he could be one to consider in the first Round Leader market too.
Michael Thompson @ 300.0299/1
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