RSM Classic: Hot putting young guns chanced at Sea Island

Golfer Dominic Bozzelli
Dominic Bozzelli - one of The Punter's outside picks in Sea Island

The PGA Tour moves from Mexico to Georgia this week for the final full field event of the year. Read Steve's in-depth preview ahead of tomorrow's start here...

"Given the last three winners were all in front at the halfway stage, it may seem a bit daft to say this an event in which you can take on odds-on shots in-running and in which you can chance players from off the pace but that's most definitely the case."

Tournament History

The RSM Classic, formerly known as the McGladrey Classic, was first staged as recently as 2010 so this is just the tenth renewal.

Originally staged at the Seaside Course alone, the event became a two-course tournament four years ago, leading to 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.

Venue

Sea Island Resort (Seaside), Sea Island, Georgia.

Course Details

Plantation Course
Par 72, 7,060 (6,907 yards in 2018)
Stroke index in 2018 - 70.45

Originally designed by Walter Travis in 1926, the Plantation Course was renovated in 1998 by Rees Jones, who described the course as "parkland by the sea", and it's been revamped again this year by Love Golf Design.

The course is now 153 yards longer and the par five eighth hole is the only one unchanged from last year. For more on the redesign, please see this article from the PGA Tout website.

Seaside Course
Par 70, 7,005 yards
Stroke index in 2018 - 68.84

Originally made up of two separate nine hole courses - a 1929 Colt and Alison classic and a Joe Lee 1973 creation called the Marchside Nine, the Seaside Course was created in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.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning on Thursday at 17:00.

First Nine Tournament 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
2016 - Mac Hughes -17 (playoff)
2017 - Austin Cook -21
2018 - Charles Howell III -19 (playoff)

What Will it Take to Win the RSM Classic?

If we look at last year's renewal in isolation, bombing it off the tee looks like a plus. The winner, Charles Howell, ranked 12th for Driving Distance, the man he beat in a playoff, Patrick Rodgers, ranked third, Luke List finished tied for fourth ranking fifth for DD and nobody hit it further than Cameron Champ in sixth place but looking at previous renewals, length off the tee is absolutely irrelevant.

CHARLES HOWELL.jpg

The 2015 winner, Kevin Kisner, ranked 53rd for Driving Distance, the 2016 winner, Mac Hughes, was even shorter, ranking only 57th, and the 2017 winner, Austin Cook, very nearly hit the tournament average when he ranked 39th. Over the first eight years, the average DD ranking of the eight winners was 37.5. It now stands at 34.67.

Accuracy is marginally more important than power from the tee. Howell ranked 12th last year, Cook ranked fourth the year before, Kisner ranked 17th in 2016 and Hughes 11th in 2015, and the average Driving Accuracy ranking of the nine winners to date is 22.67.

And here are the average rankings for all the other key stats for the nine tournament winners to date.

Greens In Regulation 21.1
Scrambling 17
Putting Average 9.3
Putts per Round 10.9
Strokes Gained Putting 8.57 *
*SGP - last seven events only

Howell gave it a good biff off the tee, found plenty of fairways and ranked number one for Greens In Regulation but his putting was very poor compared with most winners, and the man he beat in the playoff, Patrick Rodgers, who ranked third for Putting Average, second for Putts per Round and first for Strokes Gained Putting. Howell has pushed the putting averages up considerably given he ranked 70th for Putting Average, 54th for Putts per Round and only 24th for SGP.

Cook putted well in 2017 but not as well as the previous winners. Cook had a Putting Average ranking of 11th whereas Kisner and Hughes both ranked number one for PA and all three made more birdies than anyone else so it's usually just a putting competition for those that can handle the Bermuda greens.

Is There an Angle In?

Cook is from Arkansas and the 2016 winner, Hughes, is Canadian but the locals do well here.

Howell is from Augusta, Georgia and 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 that golf professionals want to live and work.

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 Fort Worth Invitational (Kisner won the Fort Worth in 2017 after winning here in 2015 and Kirk doubled up in 2013 and 2015 too) 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. One of the four men to be beaten in the playoff three years ago, Camilo Villegas, romped to a five-stroke victory at the Honda in 2010.

Winners here haven't always been in hot current form. In fact, it's the opposite. Kisner had finished runner-up in the WGC HSBC Champions in his penultimate start in 2015 and Robert Streb had finished 10th in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open but as you'll see with the list below, five of the nine winners had missed the cut in their penultimate start.

2018- C Howell MC 61 5
2017 - A Cook 50 20 25
2016 - M Hughes MC 68 26
2015 - K Kisner 2 37 25
2014 - R Streb 10 31 9
2013 - C Kirk 25 36 24
2012 - T Gainey MC 66 38
2011 - B Crane MC 10 51
2010 - H Slocum 45 50 65

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Experienced pros bossed the tournament to begin with and Howell was 39 when he won last year but had Rodgers won the playoff, each of the last five winners, and six of the last seven, would have been first-time winners on the PGA Tour and the 2016 and 17 winners were PGA Tour rookies. In fact, they had remarkably similar profiles. Cook was playing in only his 14th PGA Tour event with a World Ranking of 302 and Hughes was playing in his ninth with a ranking of 287.

Again, had Rodgers beaten Howell, five of the last six winners would have been in their 20s and Kisner was only 31 when he won four years ago but with distance irrelevant this is a tournament that gives the older guys a chance and outsiders have a great record.

Having finished fourth here in 2014 and runner-up in his previous start, Kisner went off at around the 20/1 mark four years ago but he's by far the shortest winner of the tournament to date.

Kevin Kisner 1280.jpg

Howell was a pre-event 70.069/1 chance, the first two winners, Heath Slocum and Ben Crane, both went off at around that price and the 2013 winner, Chris Kirk, was a similar price too, going off slightly shorter at 50.049/1, having been matched at a high of 60.059/1. Very few backed the 2012 winner, Tommy Gainey, Robert Streb was matched at 110.0109/1 in 2014, Cook was an unexpected winner, matched at 160.0159/1 before the off two years ago, and the four playoff protagonists that made it through to Monday's playoff in 2016 were all big-priced outsiders.

The winner, Hughes, was matched at 600.0599/1 before the off (and again in the playoff! - see below) Villegas was matched at 280.0279/1 before the off, Henrik Norlander was a 450.0449/1 shot and Blayne Barber was backed at 500.0499/1.

In-Play Tactics

Given the last three winners were all in front at the halfway stage, it may seem a bit daft to say this an event in which you can take on odds-on shots in-running and in which you can chance players from off the pace but that's most definitely the case.

In last year's edition, Webb Simpson (1.84/5), Cameron Champ (1.855/6) and the runner-up, Rodgers (1.645/8) all went odds-on before getting beat and Rodgers was absolutely miles back before getting into the playoff. The pre-event 160.0159/1 chance was matched at 1000.0 when he trailed by 12 at halfway and he was still five back with a round to go after shooting 61 in round three. A 62 on Sunday saw him get into the playoff.

Chris Kirk, who eventually finished fourth, was matched at 2.01/1 when he got to within a stroke of the winner, Cook, in round four in 2017 but instead of applying more pressure, he completely messed up the par five seventh, recording a bogey six having been just 39 yards from the hole in two, and although J.J Spaun briefly challenged (hit a low of 2.68/5) Cook was able to coast home impressively for a comfortable four-stroke win.

Kisner was the shortest priced winner and he was by some distance the easiest winner too - romping to a six-stroke victory in 2015, 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 that might just put in a charge form off the pace, then this is most definitely the event for you. We've only had nine 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 the last four winners, Heath Slocum won the inaugural event from the front after round three but Ben Crane came from five shots back to win in 2012 and a year later, Tommy Gainey hit 60 in round four to win by a stroke, having trailed by seven after 54 holes!

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.

With five of the first nine renewals going to extra time, a tight and dramatic finish can be expected but I'll be amazed if we get anything quite as bizarre as the finish to the 2016 tournament.

As darkness fell, Billy Horschel eliminated himself on Sunday with this unbelievably bad putt on the 18th green before Monday saw a simply crazy conclusion.


Incredibly, Hughes won the event at the third extra hole, despite never finding the par three 17th green! All four remaining playoff protagonists missed the green completely and Hughes was somehow matched at 600.0599/1 when his second shot still failed to make the dancefloor but his three rivals all failed to get-up-and-down for par after the Canadian holed out from just off the green for par.

Market Leaders

This is a tournament in which fancied players have a poor record but even so, Webb Simpson is very hard to dismiss. He has a habit of performing well at the same tracks and he's highly likely to go well again here this week, having traded at odds-on before finishing third 12 months ago.

Webb Simpson hand to ear 1280.jpg

Webb withdrew at the halfway stage two years ago to be with his dying father so that can be ignored and in addition to last year's third, he's also finished 12th, seventh and second here. His 41st and 26th were disappointing efforts in 2014 and 2016 but after his seventh place finish in the Shriners last time out, he's very hard to dismiss. I expect him to contend again but he doesn't win as often as he should (see last year for starters) and I'm happy to leave him out.

I imagine Billy Horschel still has nightmares about that missed putt here three years ago and it's interesting to note that this is the first time he's been back since. He also finished 20th and 43rd in 2011 and 2012 and he arrives fresh off a top-ten finish in Mexico. Obvious chance but not a great price.

This is a venue that really should suit Matt Kuchar to a tee. He's won the Sony and the Heritage and last week he defended his Mayakoba Golf Classic title, played at another venue that's not too dissimilar to this one, but his form figures here read an uninspiring 25-20-7-22-25-MC-29. He topped the Putting Average stats last week and he finished with a 62 in round four to finish 14th so it would be daft to dismiss him.

After the furore that followed his win in Mexico last year, regarding how little he paid his stand-in caddie, I suspect he's glad to get last week out of the way and I can see him being a danger this week.

Selections

As I did last week, I've thrown quite a few darts for modest stakes, concentrating largely on 20-somethings likely to make a breakthrough, although I have left some chips on the table for last week's winner, Brendon Todd.

Russell Henley (who I also backed last week) would be my idea of my strongest fancy here given he has something to prove after last week's infuriating and ridiculous missed cut following the addition of eight strokes to his second round score. More on that crazy rules infringement here.

Selections:
Harris English @ 34.033/1
Scottie Scheffler @ 46.045/1
Brendon Todd @ 55.054/1
Russell Henley @ 55.054/1
Harry Higgs @ 120.0119/1
Robby Shelton @ 120.0119/1
Doc Redman @ 220.0219/1
Dominic Bozzelli @ 230.0229/1
Satoshi Kodaira @ 740.0739/1

I'll be back tomorrow with the In-Play Blog after the opening round of the DP World Tour Championship (previewed here).

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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