The RSM Classic
It was a week where we were never seriously in the hunt for an outright winner in Houston however in the end courtesy of a solid final day’s play from 66/1 pick Adam Hadwin who nudged his way in to seventh, we ended up with a small profit.
As I am sure most long term readers will know that’s how it goes some weeks and there is no doubt it is a better feeling to sneak a full place that way than through hanging on to it when your pick has had serious winning chances.
With regards to last weeks event the main reason we were never in with a full winning chance is that after Tony Finau took control of the tournament on Friday with a flawless 62 there only looked like one winner and after the Utah native headed in to Sunday with a four shot cushion he cruised home to victory.
That’s three titles now in four month’s for Finau and his former inability to close out an event is a distant memory. He will no doubt head in to 2023 full of confidence and if he can maintain his current form he is sure to be a huge player in the Majors.
So we move on to the final full field event on the PGA Tour this year, 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 week’s field include H English, Z Johnson, C Kirk, K Kisner, P Kizzire, B Harman, K Mitchell, JT Poston, G Sigg, W Gordon, B Griffin & D Thompson.
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.
The market is headed up by the aforementioned Tony Finau who at single figure odds is a warm order to add a fourth title of the calendar year. Behind Finau things are pretty open with the in form Seamus Power and Brian Harman vying for second favourite. This duo are then followed by Tom Hoge, Taylor Montgomery and Jason Day.
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 last ten winners of the event.
2021 – T Gooch
2020 – R Streb
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
Looking at this list of players it is 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 seven of them, Gooch, Duncan, Cook, Hughes, Kisner, Streb [in 2014] & 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 and the Mayakoba Classic.
Lets now take a look at the recent form of these past winners coming in to the week.
2021 – T Gooch 60 11 5
2020 – R Streb 55 MC 21
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
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 last ten winners of this event have only mustered five top 10 finishes between them in their previous collective thirty starts coming in to the week!
Equally though between them these ten winners had only missed six cuts in their previous thirty events so it would be fair to say that they had been playing solidly and ticking along steadily until the big week came along where everything clicked.
It must be said though that last years winner Gooch did somewhat buck this trend as prior to finishing down the field in Houston the week before he had been on a great run of form, which had seen him post four straight top 11 finishes including two top fives in his first four starts of the 21/22 campaign.
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 seven winners, Cook, Hughes and Streb [in 2014] were all making their debuts here the year they won.
Gainey had played once previously and missed the cut.
With regards to 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, Howell III had played the event in each of the first eight editions and had posted four top 13 finishes, and 2019 winner Duncan had played here twice finishing 74th and 25th.
2020 Champion Streb did of course have previous here having landed his only other tour title here back in 2014, however it was back to the norm last year with Gooch who had three MC and a 23rd place in four previous visits.
All in all then as we can see past course form has never been hugely relevant.
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, Kirk, Kisner and the 2010 winner Heath Slocum have won here since the events inauguration.
In addition we have had players either based in or hailing from Texas, Oklahoma, 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, and who 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 seven 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 cooler conditions this week than normal here with temperatures in the low 60s. Touch wood though after some rain possibly in the lead up we look set for a dry four days for the event.
The wind, which is the main defence of both courses looks like it will be factor be a factor to some extent with 15mph to 20mph gusts possible.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
PATRICK RODGERS – 40/1 – 1.5pts e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 10th
I am going to start off this week by chancing Patrick Rodgers to finally bag that long overdue first PGA Tour title.
Siding with Rodgers at these sort of odds will I appreciate not be for everyone and I wouldn’t blame those who now choose to skip on to the next preview.
From my point of view though there have been some clear signs this season that Rodgers is trending towards something big as after missing the cut at the seasons opening Fortinet Championship he has strung together six straight made cuts, while his last four starts have included two 16th place finishes and a third place in Bermuda.
Looking at last weeks performance in Houston, which saw Patrick feature in the final group on Saturday and it was noticeable that his tee to green game, including his usual weak link his approach play was looking particularly solid. It was interesting then to hear Rodgers through the week talk about how after last season ended he got together with his coach Jeff Smith to put a plan in to place with regards to where he needed to make some improvements to get closer to the games elite players and that he is now seeing the results of this work on the course in the long game department.
With regards to course form and correlating course form and we can of course firstly look back on 2018 here when after just making the cut Patrick caught fire over the weekend to shoot 61 62 before just losing out to Charles Howell III in a play off. Clearly then Patrick knows how to go low here!
Away from that performance it must be said outside of a tenth place finish here in 2016 Rodgers’ record at Sea Island is nothing to get too excited about although he did open up with a 64 last year, however his third and fourth place finishes in Bermuda in his last two visits there show us he is more than comfortable on a short coastal track.
Now 30 and settled in his family life with a young son Rodgers should be heading in to his peak years on the course and in an event, which has been kind to first time winners over the recent years I am happy to risk that this is the week that Patrick finally breaks through.
TROY MERRITT – 80/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me this week is Troy Merritt.
A two time winner on Tour Merritt used to be known as the type of player who would go off the radar with a string of missed cuts before popping up with a big finish out of the blue, however over the past 12 months or so this has quietly changed with Troy morphing in to one of the more consistent players out there.
This can be backed up by the fact that Troy has only missed three solo cuts in regular tour events in 31 starts since the start of the 21/22 campaign, impressive stuff indeed.
Looking at Troy’s biggest finishes in that time and he posted a fourth place at the correlating Pebble Beach and much more recently a third place in his most recent start again by the coast in Mexico.
Looking more closely at that Mexico performance and Troy’s putter, normally his strength, was back on form after a cool start to the season as he ranked sixth for the week in putts per GIR.
Troy showed in the 21/22 campaign that when he does produce a top ten he can stay hot and notch another, something he did when posting three in four starts that season while the last time he made the frame, when fourth in Texas in the spring, he produced a really solid 12th place at Hilton Head next time out.
Finally with regards to form at Sea Island while Merritt has never produced a really big week here it has been a case of just not quite stringing four rounds together with last years 22nd place, which included an opening 66 on the Plantation and a closing 65 on the Seaside track a perfect example.
As one of the shorter hitters on tour Merritt clearly needs to pick his spots with these shorter coastal tracks then ideal for him on that front. Arriving this week then with the momentum from his big finish in Mexico I can see a big performance coming from him to close out the year.
BEN GRIFFIN – 100/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 29th
Next up this week I will give a chance to Ben Griffin who in his very short time on the PGA Tour has caught the eye as a player to watch on a shorter and/or coastal venue.
Griffin as many readers will probably know gave up the game completely early in 2021 having decided that he wasn’t going to make the big time and instead turned his attention to a 9-5 career. After a period away though he was persuaded by some ‘backers’ to give it one last go and the rest as they say is history, as after earning a Korn Ferry card he did enough damage through 2022 to secure his full playing rights in the big league for this season.
While Ben didn’t then have his full card until this season he Monday qualified for the Wyndham Championship in August and after posting back to back 64s over the weekend he bagged a career best fourth place finish giving us an indication that a shorter par 70 test could be to his liking. Roll on a couple of months then to Bermuda and Ben produced another superb display on a short, windy coastal test to improve on that fourth place with a third place finish.
As those who watched the final days play in Bermuda will know Griffin had one hand on the trophy as he headed in to the back nine on Sunday. however the enormity of the occasion clearly got to him and he unravelled down the stretch to let Seamus Power take the trophy.
Following on from this experience it would have been easy for Griffin to go in to a slump for the closing events of this year however what has impressed me is he has picked himself up and after making the cut in Mexico he played really nicely in Houston to post a 16th place finish, posting four rounds of par or better, with his putter for which he ranked tenth for the week was particularly firing. The next time he is in the hunt on Sunday then I expect Griffin to have learnt hugely from his experience in Bermuda.
Returning then this week to a shorter coastal track, which we know should suit Griffin we also have the added advantage that he now bases himself in the Sea Island area so we know, unlike many of the tracks he will face this year, Ben will be very familiar with what faces him come Thursday. In fact it is only a couple of months since he shot a 59 in a practice round on the Plantation Course. Furthermore while he missed the cut Ben also made his PGA Tour debut here in 2018 so he has experienced the venue in tournament conditions.
Playing in front of a ‘home’ gallery can obviously be a double edged sword however Griffin showed in the way he came through Korn Ferry Q School and then bagged his full card in his first full Korn ferry season that he has that something extra and at the odds on offer I am happy to risk him this week.
RUSSELL KNOX – 100/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 21st
Next cab off the rank for me this week is Russell Knox.
Knox earned a reputation as one of the most solid performers on the PGA Tour some six or seven years ago and after bagging a WGC trophy in China, a second tour title at the Travelers in 2016 and then an Irish Open title in 2018 he looked set to push on to the next level.
As is often the case though in this game things didn’t go to plan for the Scot and the last few years have seen him struggle.
Over the past season though Russell has started to find some consistency again and while he never really threatened a win, 21/22 which saw him bag two top tens and a couple more top 20 finishes was a step in the right direction.
Looking at those results last season, which the highlights were a 12th in Bermuda, a seventh in the Sony a sixth at the Players and a 15th at Colonial and it reminded us what we already know about Knox, which is like the majority of our picks this week, he is at his best on shorter tracks and/or by the coast. If we then go back to the previous couple of seasons and his best efforts while in the doldrums were seventh at Pebble Beach and 11th in Bermuda.
On to this season then and Knox has already teed it up seven times missing the cut on just one occasion out in Vegas and over the past three weeks he has progressively improved with finishes of 49th, 48th and 27th.
Furthermore those three efforts have seen rounds of 66 66 and 65 so there is clearly some good stuff in there while the 27th in Houston would have been much better but for a disappointing Sunday 74 as he headed in to day four in eighth place.
No doubt Sunday in Houston will have been frustrating for Russell then however he was seventh for the week in accuracy off the tee, 11th in approach play, and, now armed with a longer putter, 22nd on the greens, so plenty of encouragement then.
Looking at his past visits here and Knox has never managed better than 20th however as we have seen here before past course form can often be thrown out the window and it is his history on the compatible tracks, which is more of interest. Furthermore the Scot did post a round of 64 here in that 20th in 2019.
To sum up then as we saw in Houston Knox’s long game is clearly in good shape and if he can just find a good week on the greens, something that his early season efforts with the putter, give us hope he can do, I can see him wrapping up 2022 with a big performance.
PATTON KIZZIRE – 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 35th
Next this week I will roll the dice on Patton Kizzire.
Another who resides at Sea Island two time tour winner Kizzire struggled through much of 21/22 and ultimately fell short of the top 125 landing in 130th spot.
22/23 started much the same for Patton as he missed his first two cuts, however after playing all four days at the Shriners he made the most of his opportunity at the Mayakoba, where he was a past champion to post a tenth place finish, his best result on tour since he posted another tenth in Phoenix back in February.
Looking at that performance in Mexico and while we don’t have any strokes gained data, from the ‘old fashioned’ stats we do have everything was much improved from Patton from his poor early season numbers with, despite a poorer Sunday where he was in the spotlight for the first time in a long time in the second last pairing, 26th in putting and 26th in GIR encouraging.
As already mentioned Kizzire is a two time winner on tour, firstly in Mexico and then in Hawaii so if you add this to strong efforts at the Colonial, The Travelers and The Wyndham over recent years he is another who enjoys the shorter test. Finally he has a tenth place and 15th place on his CV in his last four starts here so clearly he is comfortable in his own back yard.
While there is a risk then the Mayakoba performance could be a false dawn I will chance Patton to build on that effort and wrap up his 2022 with another big showing.
AARON BADDELEY – 250/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 39th
Finally this week I will wrap up our full previews for 2022 with another chance on Aaron Baddeley.
This will be the third outing for Baddeley in our teams in four starts and after he rewarded us nicely in Bermuda with a good each way return he has enough credit in the bank in my eyes to be risked again.
With this then being the third time I have written about Badds of late I will, for want of repeating myself, keep this pretty brief however as we know he has history of strong form on shorter/coastal tracks, which has seen him land the trophy at Hilton Head and more of late finish second in Puerto Rico and seventh at the Corales and of course produce some great stuff in Bermuda very recently.
Listening to the Aussie’s interviews in Bermuda it is clear he is really happy with how his game is trending and that he has been seeing for several months now the dividends of the work he has been putting in with a new coach both with his irons and on the greens, with his trademark hot putter returning. Let’s not forget also that performance in Bermuda came on the back of some really solid performances at the end of last season on the Korn Ferry and a strong week at the Fortinet where he Monday qualified.
From that point of view them I am happy to forgive the MC in Mexico where fatigue after a long week in Bermuda being back in the thick of things may well have taken its toll. After all 71 68 was no disgrace.
Looking at Badds’ odds this week and clearly the layers feel Bermuda was a flash in the pan however with the other factors I have noted I am convinced there are better times ahead for the Aussie.
Batteries recharged then and back on a shorter coastal venue and with confidence rising even with a sketchy history here I am happy to chance Aaron once more at huge odds.