The RSM Classic
It was a good week for us at The Masters as three of our outright picks Cam Smith, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka all bagged full place returns. Smith inparticular was hugely impressive, putting fantastically on his way to second place and becoming the first player in Masters history to shoot all four rounds in the 60s.
On pretty much any other year his efforts would have been enough to bag a Green Jacket however on this occasion he ran in to the juggernaut otherwise known as Dustin Johnson who produced an almost flawless performance to break the Augusta National scoring record and land his second Major Championship.
So we move on in good heart to the penultimate PGA Tour event of 2020, The RSM Classic.
The RSM classic debuted on the PGA Tour in 2010.
For its earlier years the event was known as the McGladrey Classic. This changed in 2015 when the title sponsor changed to RSM.
Since its outset it has been played at the Sea Island club on St Simons Island in Georgia, an area which is home to several PGA Tour players.
Players based in the area who are in this weeks field include Z Johnson, C Kirk, K Kisner, P Kizzire, B Harman, K Mitchell, JT Poston, H Swafford.
Since 2015 the event has been played across two courses with the second course being The Plantation Course.
Each player plays one round on each course over the first two days with all players then playing the Seaside course in rounds 3 and 4.
This year the event follows on from the rearranged Masters and there is no doubt the field has benefitted from this with several big names you wouldn’t normally expect to see here deciding to make the three hour journey from Augusta spend a second week in Georgia in the relaxed Sea Island environment.
In-particular there is a strong European contingent, which includes Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood
The market is headed up by Webb Simpson. He is then followed by Hatton, Masters co runner up Sungjae Im, and Fleetwood.
The Seaside course is a par 70 measuring just over 7000yds.
The greens are TiffDwarf Bermuda.
The course initially opened in 1929 and was designed by Harry Colt & Charles Alison.
It then underwent a redesign in the hands of Tom Fazio in 1998.
The course is a true links course whose only real defence is the wind.
The Plantation course is a Par 72 measuring just over 7050 yards.
It was designed by Walter Travis in 1926 before undergoing a Rees Jones redesign in 1998.
The greens are again TiffDwarf Bermuda.
The Plantation course has more of a tree lined feel to it than the wide open links of the Seaside course.
Both courses have wider than average fairways and assuming the wind is not strong they offer up plenty of birdie opportunities.
With three reachable par 5s the Plantation course is statistically the easier of the two,
So let’s take a look at the winners of the event since its inception in 2010.
2019 – T Duncan
2018 – C Howell III
2017 – A Cook
2016 – M Hughes
2015 – K Kisner
2014 – R Streb
2013 – C Kirk
2012 – T Gainey
2011 – B Crane
2010 – H Slocum
Looking at this list of players its easy to see straight away that this event is the domain of players who are shorter hitters, who when on song find fairways & greens with regularity and hole more than their fair share of putts.
This is backed up by the fact that the likes of Spaun, Gay, Harman, Furyk & Cejka have also performed well here over the past few years.
Of these ten winners six of them, Duncan, Cook, Hughes, Kisner, Streb & Gainey were clinching their first PGA Tour wins here so don’t be afraid to back a player this week who is winless on tour to date.
It’s also worth noting that none of the winners had won previously on tour in that calendar year.
From a point of course correlation the obvious events that you would see as tying in with this week are the RBC Heritage, The Sony Open, TPC Sawgrass, Bermuda the Mayakoba Classic,
Lets now take a look at the recent form of these past winners coming in to the week.
2019 – T Duncan 48 18 MC
2018 – C Howell III 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
As we can see from the above really strong recent form coming in to the event is clearly not a key factor. In fact the ten winners of this event since its inception have only mustered five top 10 finishes between them in their previous collective twenty thirty starts coming in to the week!
Equally though between them these ten winners had only missed five cuts in their previous thirty events so it would be fair to say that they had been playing reasonably well and ticking along steadily until the big week came along where everything clicked.
In relation to previous course form I am afraid that this doesn’t appear to offer too many historical clues either.
Three of the last six winners, Cook, Hughes and Streb were all making their debuts here the year they won, as was Crane when the tournament was in its second year [and of course Slocum when it was first played].
Gainey had played once previously and missed the cut.
This leaves us with Duncan, C Howell III, Kisner and Kirk. Kirk had played here three times prior to winning and had gone 15 MC 64. Kisner did however have some previous here as he had finished 4th the year before he won and 20th the year prior to that, C Howell III had played the event in each of the first eight editions and had posted four top 13 finishes, while last years winner Duncan had played here twice finishing 74th and 25th.
All in all though as we can see past course form has never been hugely relevant.
This year with the event being played the week after The Masters we of course have a new dynamic in play and from that point of view it may well be that the biggest clues can be found in recent editions of the RBC Heritage, the event, which normally follows the Masters.
It’s a recognised fact that winning back to back on the PGA Tour is an incredibly tough thing to do and Bernhard Langer is the only player to notch ‘back to back’ wins at Augusta and Hilton Head [in 1985].
Throw in the mental reserves required to compete and contend right in the thick of a Major over the weekend and it is again not unsurprising that winners at Harbour Town tend not to have been in the hunt at Augusta the week before. To back this up here’s a look at the last ten winners at Hilton Head prior to this year.
CT Pan DNP
S Kodaira 28th
W Bryan DNP
B Grace MC
J Furyk MC
M Kuchar 5th
G McDowell MC
C Pettersson DNP
B Snedeker 15th [2011 not played week after the Masters, played 2 weeks after].
J Furyk MC
So, as we can see if we put 2011 to one side when the event did not directly follow the Masters in the other nine outings only one player, Matt Kuchar has won at Harbour Town after featuring near the top end of the leaderboard at Augusta the week before.
Of the other 8 winners one of them, Kodaira last year, played all four rounds at Augusta, four of them missed the cut and the other three had not been in the Masters field at all.
So the message is clear, do not be put off if the player you fancy for the week performed badly at the Masters, In fact the opposite seems to apply, as it is possible, based on the history from Hilton Head, if your fancy for the week performed well at Augusta they will turn up here jaded and will under-perform.
Finally allowing for the fact that the area is home to several PGA tour players I felt it worth looking at whether there have been past winners of the event with local connections.
The answer to this is that no winner has been based permanently in the area however four players who either hail from Georgia, or who are based there, in the form of , Howell III, Slocum, Kirk & Kisner have won here.
In addition we have had players either based in or hailing from Texas, The Carolina’s, Florida & Arkansas get the job done, showing that this event would appear to be the domain of ‘southern states’ players.
So to sum up we are looking most likely for a shorter hitter with southern states connections, whose form has been ticking along over recent weeks, who either did not play at Augusta or who at least was not in the heat of the battle there and who finally, when on song is known as an accurate tee to green player and strong putter!
From a winning score point of view we have had five editions of the event since it has been played on two separate courses and the winning total over this time has ranged from -18 to -24.
We look set for a fair week of weather with sunshine mixed with a few clouds and temperatures sitting around 70 degrees.
The wind, which is the main defence of both courses looks like it could be a slight factor with 15mph breezes in the forecast, nothing too major though.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
SHANE LOWRY – 33 -1 – 1.5pts e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 50th
Based on my above comments my general strategy this week is to swerve players who were in the heat of the battle at Augusta or who even played all four rounds there.
There is however one player who played solidly at The Masters who I can’t get away from on that is current Open Champion Shane Lowry.
Lowry’s performances had been initially somewhat lacklustre after the return from lockdown with a lone sixth place finish at the WGC Fedex St Jude at the end of July his best showing.
Recently however Shane has started to turn a corner firstly with a 13th place finish at Wentworth, a venue he obviously knows well, which he then followed with a 28th at the CJ Cup, an 11th place in Houston and then a 25th place at Augusta last week, so four solid efforts.
Having established that Lowry is in reasonable fettle coming in to this week what really draws me to him though is my suspicion that this venue, or at least The Seaside Course will be perfect for him.
To expand this further as we all know the Irishman is a master of links type venues and if the breeze does pick up a bit this week then this will surely play in to his hands.
In addition to the obvious reference to this, his win at Portrush, Lowry finished second at Hilton Head last year when arriving on the back of a missed cut at Augusta when in no form at all and this is of course a venue and performance that links well here.
While the ‘links link’ would most likely be good enough for me to side with Shane this week there is actually a final cherry to add on the cake in that the Seaside Course was co designed by non other than Harry S Colt who was responsible for the redesign of Portrush where of course Shane won the Open, and Wentworth where he has a great record. Furthermore he was the designer at Hamilton G&CC host of the 2019 Canadian Open where Shane finished second and I actually put him up that week specifically because of the Harry Colt link. [Please don’t ask me why I didn’t put him up at The Open a few weeks later for the same reason as to this day I don’t know!]
All in all then we have a world class player who’s form is trending nicely arriving at a course, which should suit him down to the tee and on that basis Shane is a must for me this week.
DOC REDMAN – 60 -1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
With so many big names making the trip here from Augusta who as already noted I am more than happy to swerve, there is in my eyes plenty of value to be had a bit further down the board and I shall head there for the remainder of my picks this week starting with Doc Redman who I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to see at 60/1.
Redman in his short time on tour has made a name for himself as a really strong, accurate tee to green player who looks to play his best stuff on shorter, quirkier, low scoring tracks, which of course is exactly what we are looking at this week.
Redman a former US Amateur Champion arrived on the PGA Tour with a big reputation and looking destined for big things, and there is nothing in his efforts so far that would leave you to believe anything other than that a maiden tour win is imminent.
His first big performance came when he finished second in 2019 with a -19 total at the shortish Donal Ross designed Detroit GC, home of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and he followed that up by posting a hugely creditable 20th at the Open at the Colt redesigned Portrush a few weeks later.
A solid 21st place came this season at Hilton Head after a slow day one and he finished 11th the following week at the short TPC River Highlands. Finally last season he posted a third place finish at the short Sedgefield home of the Wyndham.
The 20/21 season has again started strongly for Doc as he has already posted two top four finishes in five starts, meaning if you go back to the Wyndham he has been in the top four in three of his last seven efforts.
The most recent of these big finishes came a couple of starts ago at the Bermuda Championship, an event, which of course gives another big nod to this week.
In Bermuda Redman actually held the 54 hole lead going in to Sunday with a one shot advantage over the field. Not unsurprisingly however, allowing for the fact this was Doc’s first time in this situation on the PGA Tour, he stalled on Sunday closing with a 69.
There is no doubt to me that the final day in Bermuda will have been a big learning curve to the youngster from North Carolina and I fully expect him to perform much better on Sunday when next in this position. On that basis and back on a course where he finished 23rd on debut last year that should suit him down to a tee, I expect a big performance this week and potentially a maiden tour title.
WILL GORDON – 125-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next cab off the rank for me this week is another youngster who is starting to make a strong impression on the tour Will Gordon.
Gordon earned himself Special Temporary Membership to the Tour last season when he posted a third place finish at the Travelers Championship, an event, which it should be noted was played just after the tours return and was littered with big names.
Since then as can often be the case with the youngsters new to the tour it has been a bit ‘hit and miss’ from Will with a 27th place at the Wyndham his best effort.
Looking at Gordon’s 20/21 campaign so far there is nothing, which hugely leaps out at you in his results to date, however last time out in Houston although he only finished 38th he definitely caught the eye as, after starting slowly on Thursday with a 76, which included a snowman, he stormed through the field with rounds of 65 and 67 on Friday and Saturday, even though he made three more double bogeys over those two days!
Sunday unfortunately didn’t go to plan for Gordon as he closed with a 72 however the fact remains that he made birdies for fun all week and if he can cut out the stupid mistakes this has to bode well.
Looking at Gordon’s numbers in Houston he finished the week fourth in approach play and 35th in putting.
While the 35th with the flat stick on the surface isn’t too significant if we look back at Will’s tenth place on debut here last year he finished the week second in approach play and fourth from tee to green however he was a lowly 53rd in putting. The logic then is if the putter behaves reasonably well this time around if he can deliver a similar ball striking performance to last year he should be right in the hunt.
MATTHEW NESMITH – 125-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 15th
Another player who in his short time on tour has vaulted himself to near the top of my list for this kind of event is Matthew NeSmith and there is enough in the South Carolina natives form so far this season to have me reaching for him again.
rior to a missed cut in Houston on a track, which I really wouldn’t see as playing to Matthew’s strengths he had been trending nicely with a 17th place at the Sandersons followed by an eighth at the Shriners, where all key departments of his game were working nicely.
NeSmith as we know sites Hilton Head, where he has played numerous rounds over the years and proposed to his now wife on the 18th green, as his favourite venue and he showed his liking for that track when opening up really strongly there in the summer before stalling on Saturday in the spotlight.
In addition to that strong effort by the coast Matthew finished 11th at Pebble Beach, sixth at Puerto Rico and 14th here in his debut campaign on tour and these were actually his three best results of the season so it is a clear as crystal what his preferred type of layout is.
Furthermore Matthew’s 14th here last year came after he had started his PGA Tour career with four missed cuts in six starts whereas this year he arrives in far better shape. Also perhaps tellingly his one stronger effort early last season was an 18th at the Shriners where he again delivered the goods recently.
All in all if NeSmith is to break through on the PGA Tour it looks most likely to be on a shorter coastal track and I am very keen to have him onside this week.
PATTON KIZZIRE – 150 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 10th
I mentioned earlier that none of the local ‘Sea Island crew’ have triumphed here to date and I am wary of including them on that basis. There is though one I can’t resist having onside and this is a returning to form Patton Kizzire.
Kizzire is a two time winner on tour with both of his successes coming by the coast, firstly at the Mayakoba and then shortly after at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Since those wins at the back end of 2017 and early 2018 though things haven’t gone to plan for Patton and bar an out of the blue sixth place at The Travelers his 19/20 campaign was basically a write off.
The new campaign however has seen Patton make four consecutive cuts for the first time since around Easter in 2019 so there is definitely some consistency returning to his game.
At Houston last time out where he finished 11th Patton finished the week seventh from tee to green and 15th off the tee so the long game was clearly in good order, unfortunately though the putter, normally his strongest asset let him down on the week. Back home this week on greens he will know well you would hope for a vast improvement in this department.
While Kizzire is no slouch off the tee he is clearly comfortable on these shorter tracks as not only has he won on two of them but he has performed well at the Wyndham and has a 15th place to his name here and with his form trending nicely at almost exactly the same time of the year he posted his first win I am keen to side with him this week.
GRAEME MCDOWELL – 150 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 59th
Finally in a stretch of golf that has seen Martin Laird [memorably for us] post a win in his beloved desert conditions and Brian Gay produce the goods on his quintessential short seaside track, I would be kicking myself from now till the next Masters if I didn’t side with Graeme McDowell this week and he then delivered the goods.
Gmac has four PGA Tour titles to his name the RBC Heritage, The Mayakoba, The Corales Puntacana and memorably of course the US Open at Pebble Beach. From that point of view you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out where he plays his best golf stateside. Basically stick him on a shorter track by the coast and if he has any kind of game at the time he is your man.
McDowell finished fourth for us at the Sony Open back in January when we were onboard at juice three figure odds for similar reasons and only a couple of starts later he was victorious in Saudi Arabia.
Since lockdown however Gmac has struggled however prior to missing the cut at Augusta, a venue he has never performed well at, he was 24th at Wentworth and then 44th at Houston where he was 19th for the week in Driving Accuracy so there are some signs his game is turning around.
Sixty first in the world rankings Graeme will be keen to put in a couple of big efforts here and at Mayakoba to get back in the world top 50 for the year end to ensure all the riches that come with that next year, and having been third and 11th in two of his four previous starts here I am happy to round things off this week by rolling the dice on him.
UPDATED 17th NOVEMBER
FANTASY DRAFTKINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - HANK LEBIODA - DK VALUE $6400 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 29.5
For my first pick this week I'm going to side with Hank Lebioda.
As a Florida native Lebioda should be at his most comfortable on bermuda greens. In his short time on tour he has his best finish came last year in Bermuda on another short coastal track when he finished third and he has cashed on both of his previous visits here finishing 32nd and 30th.
Arriving this week on the back of three straight made cuts including 16th last time out at the aforementioned Bermuda I would expect him to be around for all four days again this week.
PICK 2 - SATOSHI KODAIRA - DK VALUE $6200 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 18
For my second pick I am going to roll the dice with Satoshi Kodaira down at $6200.
Kodaira popped up out of nowhere winning the RBC Heritage in a play off in 2018 and obviously that event ties in well here.
Since then it has been a rough time for the Japanese player on tour and he shut it down for the 19/20 season after the Honda Classic having missed five cuts on the spin.
After missing his first two cuts in the 20/21 campaign however he has shown signs of regaining some form in his last two starts as he followed a 35th place at the Zozo with a 38th place at the Vivint Houston Open.
Small acorns I know but definitely positive signs, which lead me to believe he is worth a risk at the price on a course, which really should suit his game.