The PGA Tour remains in Georgia for the 11th edition of the RSM Classic and Steve Rawlings is backing a host of long shots before Thursday's start...
"We've only had ten renewals but already we've seen winners come from four strokes back, five off the pace (twice), and from seven strokes back with a round to go."
The RSM Classic, formerly known as the McGladrey Classic, was first staged exactly ten years ago so this the 11th renewal.
Originally staged at the Seaside Course alone, the event became a two-course tournament five 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.
With a number of last week's US Masters competitors deciding to hang around for another week of tournament action in Georgia, this is the strongest renewal we've had to date.
Sea Island Resort (Seaside), Sea Island, Georgia.
Par 72, 7,060
Stroke index in 2019 - 70.44
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 was revamped again last year by Love Golf Design.
The course is now 153 yards longer and the par five eighth hole is the only one unchanged from 2018. For more on the redesign, please see this article from the PGA Tour website.
Par 70, 7,005 yards
Stroke index in 2019 - 68.9
Originally made up of two separate nine-hole courses - a 1929 Colt and Alison classic and a Joe Lee 1973 creation called the Marchside Nine, the Seaside Course was created in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, starting with featured Group coverage at 15:00 on Thursday. Full coverage begins at 18:00.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Tyler Duncan (playoff) -19 450.0449/1
2018 - Charles Howell III (playoff) -19 70.069/1
2017 - Austin Cook -21 160.0159/1
2016 - Mackenzie Hughes (playoff) 600.0599/1
2015 - Kevin Kisner -22 20.019/1
What Will it Take to Win the RSM Classic?
The 2018 winner, Charles Howell, ranked 12th for Driving Distance but last year's champ, Tyler Duncan, only ranked 47th and that's much nearer the norm. Length off the tee is absolutely irrelevant.
The 2015 winner, Kevin Kisner, ranked only 53rd for DD, the 2016 winner, MacKenzie Hughes, was even shorter, ranking only 57th, and the 2017 winner, Austin Cook, very nearly hit the tournament average when he ranked 39th. The average DD ranking of the ten winners to date is 35.9.
Accuracy is more important than power from the tee. Duncan ranked sixth for Driving Accuracy, Howell ranked 12th in 2018, Cook ranked fourth the year before, Kisner ranked 17th in 2016 and Hughes 11th in 2015, and the average Driving Accuracy ranking of the ten winners to date is 21.
And here are the average rankings for all the other key stats for the ten tournament winners to date.
Greens In Regulation 19.4
Putting Average 9.7
Putts per Round 10.9
Strokes Gained Putting 9.25 *
*SGP - last eight events only
The 2018 winner, Howell, skews the figures somewhat as his stats were far from typical. He 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. Howell pushed the putting averages up considerably given he ranked 70th for Putting Average, 54th for Putts per Round and only 24th for SGP. With rankings for those same stats of 13, 10 and 14, Duncan produced much more typical stats.
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 very often a bit of a putting competition for those that can handle the Bermuda greens.
Is There an Angle In?
Last year's winner, Duncan, is from Indiana, the 2017 champ, Cook, is from Arkansas and the 2016 winner, Hughes, is Canadian but the locals tend 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 the recent Bermuda Championship, which is played at the par 71 Royal port GC. Last year's winner there, Brendon Todd, led here through three rounds last year and this year's Bermuda winner, Brian Gay, has finished fourth and third here previously and there are three par 70 Bermuda tracks that are well worth checking out...
Waialae Country Club, home of the Sony Open in Hawaii, Colonial Country Club, venue of the Colonial National Invitational (Kisner won the Colonial National Invitational in 2017 after winning here in 2015 and Kirk doubled up in 2013 and 2015 too) and TPC Southwind, which hosts the WGC - 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 here four years ago, Camilo Villegas, romped to a five-stroke victory at the Honda in 2010 and the surprise 2016 winner here, Hughes, was a huge outsider when finishing second to Sungjae Im in the Honda in February.
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, most had poor form coming into the event and four of the winners had missed the cut in their penultimate start.
2019 - Tyler Duncan - MC-18-47
2018- Charles Howell III - 5-61-MC
2017 - Austin Cook - 25-20-50
2016 - Mackenzie Hughes - 26-68-MC
2015 - Kevin Kisner - 25-37-2
2014 - Robert Streb - 9-31-10
2013 - Chris Kirk - 24-36-25
2012 - Tommy Gainey - 38-66-MC
2011 - Ben Crane - 51-10-MC
2010 - Heath Slocum - 65-50-45
Will a Good Week at Augusta be a Plus?
Following on from the above, given we're coming here straight from Augusta, and many of the leading contenders played in the US Masters, it's worth debating whether a strong performance there is a good or bad thing. The evidence suggests it's the latter.
Although the Masters moved from April to November due to the pandemic, coming here is a familiar option for anyone that played in the championship. The tournament that traditionally follows the US Masters is the RBC Heritage, just a few miles down the road, so it's well worth looking at how the winners of that event have fared at Augusta over the years.
Given this year's renewal, won by Webb Simpson, was played after the restart in June, I've disregarded that result but the RBC heritage immediately followed the US Masters in the seven years previous, as well as in the years between 1983 and 2010, so here's a look at how the winners there this century had fared at Augusta.
2019 - C.T Pan - Didn't play at the Masters
2018 - Satoshi Kodaira - 28th at Augusta
2017 - Wesley Bryan - Didn't play at the Masters
2016 - Branden Grace - MC at Augusta
2015 - Jim Furyk - MC at Augusta
2014 - Matt Kuchar - 5th at Augusta
2013 - Graeme McDowell - MC at Augusta
2010 - Jim Furyk - MC at Augusta
2009 - Brian Gay - Didn't play at the Masters
2008 - Boo Weekley - 20th at Augusta
2007 - Boo Weekley - Didn't play at the Masters
2006 - Aaron Baddeley - Didn't play at the Masters
2005 - Peter Lonard - MC at Augusta
2004 - Stewart Cink - 17th at Augusta
2003 - Davis Love - 15th at Augusta
2002 - Justin Leonard - 20th at Augusta
2001 - Jose Coceres - MC at Augusta
2000 - Stewart Cink - 28th at Augusta
It's a mixed bag and it doesn't reveal an awful lot but given ten of the last 13 winners had either not played there or missed the cut at Augusta, a high finish in last week's major could even be construed as a negative.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Experienced pros bossed the tournament to begin with and Howell was 39 when he won in 2018 but last year's winner, Duncan, was only 30 and winning for the first time and had Patrick Rodgers won the playoff two years ago instead of Howell, the last six winners, and seven of the last eight, would have been first-time winners on the PGA Tour.
Inexperienced PGA Tour players have thrived of late. Duncan was playing in only his second season 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 seven winners would have been in their 20s and the other two weren't exactly ancient. Duncan had only turned 30 a few months before he won and Kisner was only 31 when he won five years ago but with distance irrelevant this is a tournament that gives the older guys a chance and outsiders have a fantastic 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.
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 three 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.
Last year's winner, Duncan, was a 450.0449/1 chance so this is definitely a tournament in which you can throw a few darts.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Tyler Duncan T5 - trailing by four 48.047/1
2018 - Charles Howell III - led by one stroke 3.65
2017 - Austin Cook - led by three 1.84/5
2016 - MacKenzie Hughes - led by one stroke 6.25/1
2015 - Kevin Kisner - led by three 1.674/6
The last four winners have all been in front at the halfway stage but that doesn't tell half the story.
This is definitely an event in which you can take on odds-on shots in-running and in which you can chance players from off the pace.
There's nearly always plenty of drama and three of the last four renewals have gone to extra time.
Having led by two after 36 holes, Duncan trailed by four after shooting 70 on Saturday last year and he went out to 48.047/1 before bouncing back to win. Webb Simpson came agonisingly close to claiming the title once again and for the third time in the tournament's history, he traded at odds-on without winning - hitting a low of 1.330/100 before losing the playoff.
In the 2018 edition Simpson was one of three players to trade at odds-on without picking up the trophy. He hit 1.84/5, Cameron Champ was matched at 1.855/6 and the runner-up, Patrick Rodgers touched 1.645/8.
Kisner is the shortest priced winner of the event and he was by far 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 ten renewals but already we've seen winners come from four strokes back, five off the pace (twice), and from seven strokes back with a round to go.
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 if Chris Kirk hadn't birdied the penultimate hole and we very nearly witnessed another miraculous winner two years ago too...
Patrick 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.
With five of the first ten 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 which went to a five-man playoff.
As darkness fell, Billy Horschel eliminated himself on Sunday evening with an unbelievably bad putt on the 18th green before the Monday finish 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 green but his three rivals all failed to get-up-and-down for par after the Canadian holed out for a three from just off the green.
Webb Simpson's course form reads 12-2-7-41-36-W-3-2 and following his tied 10th in the US Masters last week, he's impossible to ignore. With eight places up for grabs, the 10/1 available with the Sportsbook looks more than fair but this is a huge field and outsiders do well here. I'm happy to swerve him and the same can be said about all the market leaders.
Tyrrell Hatton missed the cut at Augusta which is probably a plus and he didn't play too terribly either. He was doing OK in round one before he unluckily found the water on the par five 15th and if he bounced back to form it would be no surprise. He's a winner on Bermuda - at the Arnold palmer in March - and he finished third at the RBC Heritage in June after opening up the event with a lacklustre 71.
Honda Classic winner, Sungjae Im, was in fabulous form last week but how much will that have taken out of him? He's also not the most reliable of putters and I'm happy to swerve him too.
I've been like a kid in a sweetshop this week with so many likely candidates at such huge odds but I've limited myself to seven bets so far.
I'll be back later with three triple-figure priced young guns for the Find Me a 100 Winner column but my four for starters here are Doc Redman, Stewart Cink, Patton Kizzire and James Hahn.
At just 22, Redman looks to have a fabulous future and he fits the RSM Classic winner mould perfectly. He's finished inside the first four places in three of his last seven starts and if he putts as well as he normally does, he should be there or thereabouts.
Cink's son is back on the bag this week and for the first time on a permanent basis. The father and son combo has clicked nicely of late - winning the Safeway open and finishing fourth at the Bermuda Championship. Based in Georgia and a two-time winner of the RBC Heritage, Cink looks a very juicy price. As do the in-form pair of Kizzire and Hahn who both putt Bermuda nicely.
The pair contested a protracted playoff at the Sony Open in 2017 and they both looked too big at 200.0199/1.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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