Best bets for PGA's RSM Classic

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Dustin Johnson won his second major championship last weekend at the Masters at 12-1, breaking the all-time scoring record at Augusta National by shooting 20 under par. Our nearest pursuer in this column was Cameron Smith, who became the first player in Masters history to shoot four consecutive rounds in the 60s yet still lost by five strokes, tying for second. Johnson is not in this week’s field at the RSM Classic in Georgia, but 33 golfers who played in the Masters will tee it up.
Because the event is immediately after the Masters this year, the RSM Classic arguably has the best field in its history. Webb Simpson (10-1), fresh off a top-10 finish at Augusta, has two runners-up here and lost in a playoff last year, so he is a logical odds-on tournament favorite. Sungjae Im tied for second at the Masters and shares a 20-1 price with Tyrrell Hatton, No. 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking, who is making his first appearance here. Hatton is part of a sizable contingent of Europeans in the Masters field who stuck around Georgia for another week. Tommy Fleetwood (25-1), Matthew Fitzpatrick (30-1), Shane Lowry (40-1), Lee Westwood (80-1), Matt Wallace (80-1), Bernd Wiesberger (100-1) and Danny Willett (110-1) are part of the European Tour players staying stateside. 
Georgia Bulldogs have had a lot of success in this event’s short history, and a large number will get a home game of sorts. The group includes Russell Henley (30-1), Harris English (30-1), Kevin Kisner (40-1), Brian Harman (50-1), Brendon Todd (80-1), Sepp Straka (80-1), Hudson Swafford (250-1) and Keith Mitchell (250-1). 
Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen (both 30-1) also make their first appearances here since the early 2010s. 
Corey Conners finished top 10 last week to earn a return appearance to the 2021 Masters and shares a 40-1 tag with Justin Rose and Sebastian Munoz. Dylan Frittelli (60-1) and C.T. Pan (80-1) also earned return dates to next April’s Masters with finishes of fifth and seventh, respectively. 
Tyler Duncan (125-1) earned his way into the Masters by winning the RSM Classic last year but missed the cut at Augusta, so he’s looking to repeat the feat to return to the Masters.
The Event
The RSM Classic debuted in October 2010 as the McGladrey Classic and has been a fixture on the PGA Tour’s Fall Series since. The tournament is organized by the Davis Love Foundation. Love is a resident pro of the Sea Island Golf Club, which has hosted the event every year. In 2015 the event began being played on both Sea Island Golf Club courses, Seaside and Plantation. As a full-field event, the usual perks for winning are on the line, including the $1.188 million winner’s share from a $6.6 million purse, spots in the Masters, PGA and Player Championship and a two-year PGA Tour exemption.
The Course
The RSM Classic is played on two courses. All golfers will play the Sea Island Plantation Course in the first or second round. It was designed in 1928 by Walter Travis and redesigned in 1998 before a group led by Love restored it this year. This course plays as a par-72 of 7,000 yards and has tight, undulating Bermuda fairways into small and fast Bermuda greens. The Sea Island Seaside Course will be used for three of the four rounds. The legendary team of Harry Colt and Hugh Alison designed this track in 1928 before Tom Fazio reworked it in 1998. It is similar to the Plantation Course but plays as a par-70.
Recent History/Winners
2019: Tyler Duncan (-19/263), 150-1*
2018: Charles Howell III (-19/263), 40-1**
2017: Austin Cook (-21/261), 90-1
2016: Mackenzie Hughes (-17/265), 250-1***
2015: Kevin Kisner (-22/260), 18-1
2014: Robert Streb (-14/266), 60-1****
2013: Chris Kirk (-14/266), 50-1
2012: Tommy Gainey (-16/264), 200-1
2011: Ben Crane (-15/265), 66-1*****
2010: Heath Slocum (-14/266), 50-1
* - playoff win over Webb Simpson
** - playoff win over Patrick Rodgers
*** - playoff win over Blayne Barber, Billy Horschel, Henrik Norlander and Camilo Villegas
**** - playoff win over Brendon de Jonge and Will MacKenzie
***** - playoff win over Webb Simpson
Trends and Angles
 
A multitude of players live here at Sea Island or on adjacent St. Simons Island:
Jonathan Byrd
Harris English
Brian Harman
Zach Johnson
Patton Kizzire
Matt Kuchar
Keith Mitchell
J.T. Poston
Hudson Swafford
Davis Love III (tournament host)
Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner and Nick Watney are also regular visitors to the Sea Island Golf Performance Center.
 
The last three winners of the RSM Classic have ranked fourth or better for greens in regulation during their winning weeks.
 
Greens In Regulation Leaders
1. Matthew NeSmith (2) 78.13%
2. Martin Laird (3) 77.08%
3. Russell Knox (5) 76.04%
4. Sam Burns (T6) 75.93%
5. Stewart Cink (T6) 75.93%
6. James Hahn (8) 75.69%
7. Emiliano Grillo (9) 75.25%
8. Russell Henley (T10) 75.00%
9. Austin Cook (14) 73.81%
10. Patrick Rodgers (15) 73.77%
11. Aaron Wise (T16) 73.61%
12. Henrik Norlander (T16) 73.61%
13. Cameron Percy (T16) 73.61%
Selections
 
Russell Henley 25-1
 
It’s only fitting to start the card with a Georgia guy. It also helps that this “Dawg” is in excellent form and has motivation. 
Henley had last weekend off — though he would have preferred to play, since he was not in the Masters. He is No. 58 in the OWGR, and the top 50 in March will earn invitations to next year’s Masters five months from now. The more direct path is to win an event, and Henley is certainly capable here.
He has four top-10s in his last seven events and five in his last 11 dating to the Workday in July. Henley ranks in the top 10 on the PGA Tour for greens in regulation, strokes gained: approach and strokes gained tee to green. The putting stats overall will not dazzle you, but he is substantially better on Bermuda. All three of his PGA Tour wins are on Bermudagrass greens.
He also finished top 10 or better in this event three consecutive seasons (2014-16). Furthermore, Henley won on this course, taking the SEC championship in 2010.
 
Shane Lowry 45-1
 
For the most part, I’m looking to stay away from players who were part of the Masters, but Lowry (T-25th at Augusta) is an interesting look. The form is not great, but Lowry has made four straight cuts. 
However, a couple of other angles point to Lowry. While Sea Island is not a pure links setup, it does have some links characteristics. And the wind is expected to be steady, so this could be comfortable for the Irishman.
The British Open win at Royal Portrush in 2019 is the obvious standout. That track was redesigned by Harry Colt, who is the designer of the Seaside Course. Colt also designed Hamilton G&CC, which hosted the RBC Canadian Open in 2019, where Lowry finished second to Rory McIlroy. Wentworth Club (BMW PGA Championship) is also a Colt design, and Lowry is an annual contender in that event. 
 
Doc Redman 60-1
 
Redman is looking to move up in the OWGR to earn a Masters spot. He has been knocking at the door with three top-4 finishes in his last seven events.
The former U.S. Amateur champion held the 54-hole lead three weeks ago at the Bermuda Championship, his first time in that situation on the PGA Tour, but he was unable to close it for his first PGA Tour victory. 
He has had three weeks to get over that near-miss, and the price has drifted up due to a stronger field. He is worth a play at a bigger number. 
 
Henrik Norlander 100-1
 
Norlander was not in the Masters, which would have been a home game for the Swede who played his collegiate golf at Augusta State. 
He comes in off two missed cuts but has three top-10 finishes in 2020, including a T-4 at the Sanderson Farms.
Norlander fits the “horse for the course” moniker at Sea Island with a runner-up in 2016 and a fifth last year. He also rates top 12 in the field for greens in regulation, which has been an indicator of success here in the past.
 
Danny Willett 110-1
 
Willett is another member of the European contingent sticking around this week after finishing T-25 at the Masters. He led the field in strokes gained: approach at Augusta, gaining + 8.6 shots on the field.
Like Lowry, Willett has a course-designer link in his favor, having won the 2019 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, another Colt design.
 
Matthew NeSmith 125-1
 
NeSmith has only one appearance here as a PGA Tour player, finishing 14th last year, but he does have fairly extensive experience on this track.
NeSmith won the 2015 SEC title at Sea Island. He has a form line of 20-21-1-13 in his four years here during his collegiate career at South Carolina. 
NeSmith ranks tops in this week’s field and second on tour for greens in regulation this season. He is also sixth in this week’s field for strokes gained: approach. 
Despite the missed cut two weeks ago in Houston, NeSmith comes in off a top-10 finish (T-8 Shriners) and a top-20 before that (T-17 Sanderson Farms), so he should come here with confidence on a course where he has an established record of success. 
 
Will Gordon 125-1
 
Gordon finished 10th on debut here last year. He has been fairly pedestrian since a standout T-3 at the Travelers last summer. Gordon has made six of 10 cuts since then, but his best finish was just a T-27th at the Wyndham. 
However, this is a highly familiar course for Gordon, who finished third in the 2019 SEC championship and 18th in 2017 at Sea Island while playing for Vanderbilt.
 
Patton Kizzire 200-1
 
Kizzire is another former SEC championship winner at Sea Island, taking the 2007 title for Auburn. 
He has made four straight cuts and has played progressively better each time with a T-11th in Houston two weeks ago, where he gained strokes on the field in all phases. 
Bermudagrass is Kizzire’s best putting surface, and his two wins are on that surface on coastal tracks, Waialae and El Camaleon. 
 
Joburg Open
 
South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout made the weekend at the Masters (T-38) and is the only player in this field to play at Augusta. He returns home as the 14-1 favorite at the Joburg Open. Spaniards Adri Arnaus and Adrian Otaegui, a winner five weeks ago at the Scottish Championship, share a price tag of 20-1 with Dutchman Joost Luiten and South African Brandon Stone. Fellow South African Daniel Van Tonder (25-1) has dominated with four wins in the last 21/2 months on his homeland’s Sunshine Tour, which co-sanctions this event with the European Tour. Englishman Marcus Armitage (25-1) finished fifth in this event in 2017 and third on this course last year in the South African Open. Malaysian Gavin Green and Englishman Matthew Jordan finished in the top 10 at the Cyprus Showdown two weeks ago and join South African Garrick Higgo, who won his first European Tour event in Portugal in September, at 25-1.
 
The Event
 
The Joburg Open returns to the European Tour after a two-year absence. The event begins a three-week swing through South Africa before the tour concludes a tumultuous 2020 in Dubai. 
 
The Course
 
The Firethorn Course at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg, South Africa, will play host. The track has been used for the South African Open for two years and for the 2017 Joburg Open. Firethorn is a tree-lined layout with forgiving fairways and water hazards on six holes on a parkland setup. It plays as a 7,506-yard par-71, but the course is 5,750 feet above sea level, so it essentially plays at a tad over 7,000 yards.
 
 Recent History/Winners
2020: Branden Grace (-21/263)
2018: Louis Oosthuizen (-18/266)
2017: Shubhankar Sharma (-23/267), 66-1
 
Grace and Oosthuizen won on this course but in the South African Open. 
 
Trends and Angles
 
The last three winners on this course have ranked second (Grace), fourth (Oosthuizen) and first (Sharma) in scrambling during their winning weeks. 
 
Scrambling
1. Adrian Otaegui (5) 63.25%
2. Louis De Jager (6) 63.16%
3. Jack Senior (14) 61.36%
4. Matthieu Pavon (15) 61.20%
5. Jonathan Caldwell (16) 61.04%
6. Marcus Armitage (17) 61.04%
7. Oliver Farr (23) 60.23%
8. Ricardo Santos (32) 59.39%
9. Aaron Cockerill (34) 59.31%
10. Johannes Veerman (35) 59.26%
In the last Joburg Open (2017), five of the top six finishers were also in the top six that week for scrambling. 
 
Selections
 
Marcus Armitage 25-1
 
The Englishman is one of the best scramblers in the field and has two top-5 finishes on this course in the last three years. 
Armitage also has four straight finishes of 14th or better on the European Tour and could thrive as a “horse for the course” in a weaker field. 
 
Garrick Higgo 25-1
 
Higgo has won three times on home soil in the last 18 months and won his first official European Tour event this summer in Portugal.
 
Johannes Veerman 30-1
 
The American posted his best European Tour finish two weeks ago in Cyprus, finishing T-4. He also was a respectable T-13 on this course in this year’s South African Open, which had a much better field at the top. 
 
MJ Daffue 42-1
 
Daffue is a South African currently without status on any tour. He has been playing in Monday qualifying in the U.S. to get into fields. He led the Sanderson Farms several weeks ago for a spell before finishing T-12. 
With only five starts on the restart, he failed to make three of five cuts on the PGA Tour against way stronger fields than this one.
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