Jason Kokrak shot a 5-under 65 on Sunday to win the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open by two strokes over Scottie Scheffler and Kevin Tway. Kokrak, at a price of 50-1, notched his second victory of 2021 and his third in just a little over a calendar year and now has his highest career ranking at No. 22 OWGR.
The PGA Tour finishes off 2021 with the RSM Classic in Saint Simons Island, Ga. Scheffler (14-1), tipped in this column last week, had to settle for a runner-up finish after being the 54-hole leader and is still seeking his first PGA Tour victory. Webb Simpson (16-1) is a regular in this event and has finished runner-up twice (2011, 2019). Cameron Smith (18-1) never really got going last week in Houston and settled for a T-15. Louis Oosthuizen (25-1) had three runners-up in the middle of 2021 as he still seeks his first triumph on American soil. Corey Conners (25-1) had two top-5 and five top-10 finishes in 2021.
Harris English (30-1), a Sea Island resident, had his career season in 2021 and not only won for the first time in eight seasons but won twice (Sentry ToC, Travelers) for good measure. Russell Henley (30-1) is also part of a large Georgia Bulldogs contingent that annually participates in this tournament. Joaquin Niemann (35-1) also has his final chance to win in 2021 after three runner-up finishes. Kevin Kisner (40-1) won here in 2015 and lost in a playoff in this event last year. Also priced at 40-1 are Adam Scott, Talor Gooch and Alex Noren.
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 as DL3 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 winner’s share of a $7.2 million purse, spots in the Masters, PGA and Players and a two-year PGA Tour exemption.
The RSM Classic is played on two courses. The Sea Island Plantation Course will be played in either the first or second rounds by all players. It was originally designed in 1928 by Walter Travis and redesigned in 1998 before a group led by Love restored it in 2019. This course plays as a par-72 of 7,060 yards and has tight, undulating Paspalum fairways into small (6,100 square feet) and fast (12.5 stimpmeter) Bermuda greens. With Love's design input, this course does have some similarities to Harbour Town Golf Links (RBC Heritage), where DL3 won five times in his career.
The Sea Island Seaside Course will be played in three of the four rounds. The legendary team of Harry Colt and Hugh Alison first designed this track in 1928 before Tom Fazio redesigned it in 1998. The Seaside Course is around the same length at 7,005 yards, but plays only as a par-70. The greens are larger on this layout, though, at 7,200 average square feet. They are also a bit slower (11-11.5 stimpmeter) Like its counterpart, the tees and fairways are Paspalum, and the greens are Bermuda.
Wind is the main defense for both of these courses.
2020: Robert Streb (-19/263); 350-1*
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 Kevin Kisner
** 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 & Will MacKenzie
****** playoff win over Webb Simpson
STATS, TRENDS AND ANGLES
Three of the last six winners ranked top 5 in the field during their winning weeks for SG: Approach.
SG: Approach (Last 36 rounds)
1. Russell Henley 37.5
2. Kyle Stanley 32.7
3. Talor Gooch 29.2
4. Louis Oosthuizen 26.9
5. Chez Reavie 26.1
6. Matthew NeSmith 23.9
7. Keegan Bradley 23.8
8. Jhonattan Vegas 23.1
9. Joel Dahmen 21.5
10. Emiliano Grillo 21.4
More specifically we can also look at approaches and proximity from 125-150 and 150-175 yards.
Proximity 125-150 Yards (Last 36 rounds)
1. Max McGreevy 12.9 (8 Rounds)
2. Jimmy Walker 9.2
3. Seamus Power 9.1
4. Chad Ramey 8.8 (18 Rounds)
5. Henrik Norlander 7.9
6. Ben Crane 7.3
7. Sam Ryder 7
8. Kyle Stanley 7
9. Emiliano Grillo 6.6
10. Matthias Schwab 6.2 (28 Rounds)
11. Scottie Scheffler 6.1
Note: Feet Gained Per Shot
Proximity 150-175 Yards (Last 36 rounds)
1. Russell Henley 14
2. Callum Tarren (6 Rounds) 12
3. Joel Dahmen 11.5
4. Luke Donald 10.7
5. Russell Knox 10.3
6. Keegan Bradley 10
7. Lee Hodges 9.9 (23 Rounds)
8. Cameron Smith 9.3
9. Joaquin Niemann 9.1
10. Emiliano Grillo 9
Note: Feet gained per shot
The last four winners here have rated in the top 7 in the field for GIR during their winning weeks.
GIR Gained (Last 36 rounds)
1. Jhonattan Vegas 43
2. Mito Pereira 38.4
3. Scottie Scheffler 36.6
4. Luke List 30.6
5. Nick Hardy 30.6
6. Nick Watney 30.2
7. Louis Oosthuizen 29
8. Hudson Swafford 28.6
9. Kyle Stanley 27.2
10. Matt Wallace 25.9
The last six winners have an average winning score of 19.5 under par, so making a lot of birdies is key to competing here.
Birdie Or Better Gained (Last 36 rounds)
1. Cameron Smith 36.1
2. Webb Simpson 25.1
3. Hank Lebioda 24.1
4. Scottie Scheffler 23.6
5. Sam Ryder 20.4
6. Seamus Power 17.5
7. Hudson Swafford 17
8. Jhonattan Vegas 16.7
9. Danny Lee 16.2
10. Harris English 15.5
Nine of the 12 Par-4s on the Seaside Course, which players will play for three of the four days, measure between 400 and 450 yards.
SG: Par-4 400-450 Yards (Last 36 rounds)
1. Tyler Duncan 24.3
2. Adam Scott 22.1
3. Seamus Power 19.7
4. Scott Stallings 17.9
5. Scott Gutschewski 16.3
6. Roger Sloan 14.1
7. Sung Kang 12.6
8. Greyson Sigg 12.3
9. Hank Lebioda 12.3
10. Brandt Snedeker 11.1
Both courses measure at just over 7,000 yards, so we can look at players that seem to flourish on 7,000- to 7,200-yard layouts.
SG Total Short Courses (Last 36 rounds)
1. Webb Simpson 68.2
2. Harris English 56.3
3. Scottie Scheffler 51.8
4. Cameron Davis 49.2
5. Adam Scott 43.6
6. Justin Rose 42.3
7. Joaquin Niemann 42.1
8. Jason Day 41.5
9. Corey Conners 41.5
10. Russell Henley 41.1
Even with all the statistical angles that should be considered, the RSM seems to always come down to a putting contest.
SG: Putting Bermuda (Last 36 rounds)
1. Chesson Hadley 34.2
2. Brendon Todd 30.7
3. Denny McCarthy 30
4. Zach Johnson 28.2
5. Cameron Smith 25.7
6. Louis Oosthuizen 21.2
7. Mackenzie Hughes 20.9
8. Peter Uihlein 20.7
9. Brian Harman 19.6
10. Kevin Kisner 18.5
Russell Henley 28-1
Henley finished T-7 last week in Houston. He leads the PGA Tour for SG: Approach.
One of several Georgia Bulldogs in this field, Henley has three career top-10s here since 2013. He also possesses PGA Tour victories at Waialae (Sony Open) and PGA National (Honda Classic), both correlated courses to this week's layout.
Chris Kirk 66-1
Kirk has not approached his 2021 high of finishing T-2 at the Sony Open to keep his PGA Tour playing privileges off a Major Medical Extension. However, he has made seven straight cuts dating to the Wyndham.
The Georgia Bulldog also has a win in this event in 2013 as well as several top performances on correlated courses. He has a win and a top-5 at Colonial (Charles Schwab Challenge), a win at Harbour Town (RBC Heritage) and a victory and this year's runner-up at Waialae (Sony Open).
Joel Dahmen 66-1
Last weekend, Dahmen posted his best finish since notching his first career PGA Tour victory at the Corales Puntacana earlier this spring. Dahmen finished T-5 in Houston last weekend.
He was fifth in last week's field for SG: Approach and third for SG: Tee-To-Green.
Luke List 90-1
List has three top-6 finishes in 2021. He also has a fourth here at the RSM.
Correlated course finishes of second at the Honda Classic and a T-3 at the RBC Heritage, both in 2018, indicate that this course could be a good fit with a player on solid enough form.
Denny McCarthy 110-1
McCarthy closed with a 64 on Sunday in Houston to finish T-11. He has four finishes of 17th or better over the course of his last eight events, so he has been playing solid golf.
He is one of the best putters on the PGA Tour but needs to have the putting and ball striking working on the same week. McCarthy finished T-8 here in 2019, so this course is a good candidate for all facets of his game to finally come together.
Henrik Norlander 125-1
Norlander has a runner-up and a fifth here at the RSM.
He has three top-5s in 2021, but this is a home game this week for Norlander and he is worth a stab at a big price.
Davis Thompson 200-1
This is a home game for Thompson as his father serves as the RSM Classic tournament director. He just turned professional without any tour status over the summer and has made six of eight cuts.
Thompson is playing on a sponsor's exemption this week and has a lot of history on Sea Island having finished second, first and second over the last three years in the Jones Cup, a Category A amateur event held at nearby Ocean Forest. He also placed fourth on the Seaside Course in 2019 during the SEC championship.
DP WORLD TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP
The DP World Tour Championship concludes the European Tour's Race to Dubai. It also concludes almost 50 years of the tour being known as the European Tour. In 2022, the European Tour will be known as the DP World Tour. 53 players will be playing for a $9 million prize pool to win the event plus the season-ending Order of Merit by winning the Race to Dubai.
For the first time, an American is likely to win the Race to Dubai title as World No. 1 Jon Rahm elected to withdraw over the weekend. British Open champion Collin Morikawa (17-2) and BMW PGA champion Billy Horschel (28-1) are 1-2 in the points standings. The tournament favorite distinction goes to Rory McIlroy (6-1), who won several weeks ago at the CJ Cup and is a two-time winner (2012, 2015) of this event as well as a three-time winner of the Race to Dubai (2012, 2014, 2015). Matt Fitzpatrick (16-1), a winner last month at Valderrama, is a two-time winner of this event (2016, 2020) and returns as defending champion.
Abraham Ancer (18-1) is one of a handful of PGA Tour regulars electing to make a trip to Dubai and he qualified for his spot in the field by winning the WGC: FedEx St. Jude Invitational earlier this summer. Tommy Fleetwood (18-1) was the runner-up in this event two years ago and a Race to Dubai points winner in 2017 and has started to find a bit of form this fall with three top-10s over the last 10 weeks. Bernd Wiesberger (20-1) finished T-2 last week in the Dubai Championship to JB Hansen (70-1) on the Fire Course at Jumeriah Golf Estates. Sergio Garcia (20-1) and Patrick Reed (30-1), runner-up here in 2018, received special tournament invitations. Paul Casey (22-1) and Tyrrell Hatton (22-1), runner-up here in 2016, are both looking to bookend their seasons with victories late in the year to match their wins early in 2021.
The DP World Tour Championship was established in 2009 as the Race to Dubai replaced the former European Tour Order of Merit. Global port operator DP World, based in Dubai and formed in 2005, serves as the title sponsor of this event. Only 53 players are in this week's field. The field will play for a $9 million purse with a $3 million share going to the winner. The Vardon Trophy, named after six-time British Open champion Harry Vardon, is awarded to the Race to Dubai points winner.
The Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates has hosted this event every year since the tournament’s creation. The track was designed by Greg Norman and opened in 2009. It’s a monster at 7,675 yards with two of the par-5s measuring over 620 yards, a tough Par-4 ninth of 500 yards, plus a 195-yard par-3 17th, which plays to an island green. Greens are large, undulating Bermudagrass which measure 12-6 on the stimpmeter. Water is in play on the final three holes and there are 99 bunkers predominantly featured in the fairways. Although the course is long, it is fairly easy to score as the average winning score over the last 10 years falls between 19 and 20 under par. Nevertheless ball strikers that are especially good with long irons should be successful here, and being long off the tee never hurts either.
2020: Matt Fitzpatrick (-15/273); 7-1
2019: Jon Rahm (-19/269); 7-1
2018: Danny Willett (-18/270); 80-1
2017: Jon Rahm (-19/269); 12-1
2016: Matt Fitzpatrick (-17/271); 66-1
2015: Rory McIlroy (-21/267); 5-1
2014: Henrik Stenson (-16/272); 17-2
2013: Henrik Stenson (-25/263); 11-1**
2012: Rory McIlroy (-23/265); 6-1
2011: Alvaro Quiros (-19/269); 40-1
2010: Robert Karlsson (-14/274); 50-1*
* playoff win over Ian Poulter
** all-time tournament scoring record
TRENDS AND ANGLES
• Each winner here had registered at least one top-7 finish in his previous six starts.
• There have been four repeat winners here in 12 tournaments (Stenson, McIlroy, Rahm, Fitzpatrick).
Tommy Fleetwood 18-1
Perhaps the focus of trying to win on American soil was getting to be too much for Fleetwood. Recently, he has seemed to get back to basics and has played predominantly in Europe over the last three months.
Fleetwood has three top-7s over the last 10 weeks. He is always a threat in the Middle East as he has two career wins in Abu Dhabi and was runner-up two years ago here.
Tyrrell Hatton 22-1
After a season-opening victory in Abu Dhabi, it has been a bit of an erratic season for Hatton. He has two runners-up (Palmetto, Dunhill Links) but also several missed cuts, including last weekend in Houston.
Hatton was runner-up in 2016 and has four top-10s in seven career starts.
Laurie Canter 50-1
Canter continues to come closer to that elusive first European Tour victory. After two runners-up in 2020, Canter finished T-2 at the BMW PGA Championship earlier this fall.
He has solid desert form finishing T-5 in this event last year and was T-4 at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year.
Canter leads the European Tour for SG: Off-The-Tee, and his length should be beneficial on a near 7,700-yard track.
Victor Perez 50-1
Perez has finishes of 20th (2019) and seventh (2020) in this event.
He disappointed last week, finishing 24th, but hit 82.1 percent of his fairways and 90.3 percent GIR last weekend on the Fire Course and closed with a 65 on Sunday.
Sean Crocker 66-1
Crocker, one of three selections in this column, settled for a T-8 last week on the Fire Course. Last year on the Earth Course, he finished 14th despite being the worst-ranked putter in the field.
Last week, he ranked fifth for SG: Off-The-Tee and 10th for SG: Approach and has maintained that all season. Ball striking clearly is not what is holding back Crocker.
Thomas Detry 75-1
Detry has added two more bridesmaid finishes in 2021 to his career mark of five as he still seeks his first European Tour victory.
Nevertheless, he has shown some decent form in the Middle East with a T-9 at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year and a T-6 in Saudi Arabia in 2020.