RSM Classic: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Matthew Fitzpatrick and caddie Billy Foster. Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In a typical year, Masters participants enjoy a short trip to a southern coastal town for a decompressing week of competition. As strange as 2020 as has been, the PGA Tour schedule follows the familiar path this week. The RSM Classic, the penultimate event in a year unlike the rest, begins Thursday on Sea Island, Georgia.

Pleasant weather (temperatures in the mid 70s), breezy at times (10-20 mph), and a relaxed atmosphere on the scenic host Seaside Course and the neighboring Plantation, is forecast for the 156 players. They’ll play one round on each before the 36-hole cut.

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The purse is $6.6 million. Both courses are short per Tour standards. The Seaside is a par 70 measuring 7,005 yards and the Plantation is a par 72 at 7,060. The RSM has seen its share of first-time winners in recent years, with five of the last six champions hoisting their first trophy here and Charles Howell III claiming a rare victory in a playoff.

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We focused on the players who thrive on Bermuda grass and can scramble and putt this week. The fairways and greens are much easier to hit than in a normal Tour event. The pros hit 71 percent of the fairways, compared to 62 percent on average and nearly 74 percent of the greens, compared to 65 percent in the average week.

Recent performance is always important and past results on Sea Island were also considered.

Several stars from Europe took advantage of the convenient schedule to travel over from Augusta and make their first RSM Classic. Expect the course and immaculate conditions to suit them.

As always, good luck. Feel free to post any comments or questions below.

Golfer power rankings

25. Joaquin Niemann​ – Tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the Masters. On a nice stretch of four consecutive top 25s, including three in a row since hooking up with steady hand Gary Matthews on the bag. Played here in 2018 and finished T-65.

24. David Hearn​ – Has a strong track record on Sea Island, making the cut in all seven appearances with top 20s in three of the last four starts. Finished eighth in Bermuda and 14th in the Safeway. The crafty veteran can still maneuver his ball around the shorter courses on the PGA Tour.

23. Maverick McNealy​ – Steady if not spectacular of late (three top 25s in four starts) and ranks third in the field in SG: Putting on Bermuda greens in the last 24 rounds. Tied for 53rd in only RSM appearance, last year.

22. Austin Cook​ – The 2017 RSM Champion lost in a playoff in Las Vegas last month. His irons have started dialing in over the last five tournaments and he sizzled on the greens in a T-24 in Houston, gaining 5.9 strokes for the week. Also finished T-11 at the 2018 RSM.

21. Denny McCarthy​ – Improving iron game took a mini step backward in Houston (T-38) but his putter remains a dangerous weapon. Finished T-8 in the RSM Classic last year. Bet he’d love a shot at Augusta’s greens in April.

20. Tyrrell Hatton​ – The grumpy side of Hatton roared in full force at Augusta National and considering his form entering the week, it may just be an example of that course being stronger than this horse. He’s yet to figure the place out. Expect a rebound on Sea Island. He gained 5.8 strokes on Bermuda greens in Houston the week before, recording yet another top 10.

19. J.T. Poston​ – Struggled in his first trip to the Masters. That happens. In the bigger picture, he’s top 10 in the field in SG: Putting over the last 24 rounds on Bermuda greens. Has also gained an average of 1.7 shots on approach in his last five tournaments. The product of western N.C. finished T-14 at last year’s RSM after missing the cut the three previous years.

18. Brian Gay​ – Emerged from oblivion to win in Bermuda, claiming his fifth Tour title in sudden death. He’s now the golfing king of an island and the grass that shares its name. Finished top 5 here in 2013 and 2017 and T-23 in 2018.

17. Kevin Kisner​ – My eyes and the stats reveal he’s struggling around the greens at the moment (137th in field in SG: Around-the-Green over the last 24 rounds). But he’s managed three top 25s in his last six tournaments. Loves Sea Island also with three other top 10s besides his 2015 victory.

16. Justin Rose​ – Finished T-23 in the Masters – his third top 25 in five starts – and what’s encouraging is the former World No. 1’s improving iron play. Had stretches at Augusta where he was swinging in a nice rhythm. Have to believe he’s hungry to return to the elite status he enjoyed not that long ago.

15. Zach Johnson​ – Had a chance to watch the two-time major champion practice for a while in Augusta and walked away impressed. A soft Augusta National was more than he could handle (T-51) but he’s top 25 in this field in SG: Putting and SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds on Bermuda. Finished top 10 in the RSM in 2017 and 2018.

14. Louis Oosthuizen – ​Taking his first gander at Sea Island but wherever Louis has roamed in recent months, good results have followed. Top 25 in the Masters was his 11th consecutive cut made (the last miss was at Harbour Town, unfortunately). Has gained an average of three strokes on the greens in his last five tournaments.

13. Sungjae Im​ – With veteran caddie Bobby Brown steering him around, Im was outstanding at Augusta, scrambling and putting his way to a tie for second. We all know what he can do with his irons. He’s top 50 in the field in every significant SG category in the last 24 rounds on Bermuda. Tied for 37th in RSM debut last year.

12. Ian Poulter​ – Has four consecutive top 25s, including a pair of top 10s, in his last four starts worldwide. Lives in Florida so has ample experience pitching and putting on this grass and the pure surfaces should be inviting. Been a consistent moneymaker for the last 16 months with 13 top 25s in the span.

11. Sam Burns​ – Lived on the leaderboard throughout the week in Houston, finishing T-7. In his only RSM appearance in 2018 finished T-37. Short game was sharp there and he enjoyed his best ballstriking of the season, gaining 6.5 shots on approach. Bermuda is his favorite surface as well.

10. Matthew Fitzpatrick​ – Made a few costly swings at Augusta – a pulled iron shot into the pond on No. 16 comes to mind – but his overall numbers are very solid in his last 24 rounds on Bermuda, including 40th in the field in SG: Approach and fourth in SG: Putting.

9. Talor Gooch​ – Strong putting (5.3 SG) on Bermuda in his last outing produced a T-4. It was the fifth consecutive tournament where his putting outperformed the field average and second top 5 in three starts. Finished T-23 in the RSM last year.

8. Corey Conners – ​I chatted with Conners’ coach, Derek Ingram, early last week at Augusta and he felt confident the switch Conners made to a left hand low putting style would continue to pay huge dividends. It produced a T-10 in the Masters, his third consecutive top 25 in 2020. He’s 19 under in two previous RSM appearances with a T-12 last year.

7. Brian Harman​ – Home game for the diminutive Georgian. He’s made 11 consecutive cuts and landed in the top 30 seven times. Has a T-4 and T-14 at the RSM Classic in the last three years. Unafraid and eager to finish the year strong.

6. Mackenzie Hughes ​- Broke through to claim the 2016 RSM, a career-altering victory. Hasn’t enjoyed much success on Sea Island of late (two MCs and a T-65) but his game has never been better, recording five top 15s in his last eight starts and closing with 63 in Houston. Also leads the field in SG: Short Game and SG: Putting over the last 24 rounds.

5. Shane Lowry​ – Sounded invigorated after playing three of the four rounds with Tiger at Augusta National and his game is trending upward with top 25s in Houston and the Masters. Not a great putter on Bermuda, historically, but ranks top 15 in the field in SG: Around-the-green in the last 24 rounds on the surface. Good wind player.

4. Alex Noren​ – Willing to overlook his missed cut in Houston, which snapped a streak of eight consecutive tournaments in the money. Thrives around the green and with the putter and finished T-10 in last year’s RSM, his only previous appearance.

3. Russell Henley – ​University of Georgia product missed the cut at the RSM the last two years but had a string of three top 10s from 2015-17. Bermuda is easily his best putting surface and he’s been the Tour’s best iron player since the June restart (4.4 SG: Approach last 10 events). Finished no worse than 37th in his last eight starts with four top 10s.

2. Webb Simpson –​ Continued his incredible 2020 with a top 10 at the Masters and should feel confident about finishing the year with a victory. Lost in sudden death to Tyler Duncan at the RSM last year and finished T-3 in 2018. Iron play has been erratic over the last month or so but has the best short game on Tour and good memories from his winning at Hilton Head.

1. Sebastian Munoz – ​Has six top 25s in his last eight starts, including a T-17 in the Masters. Bermuda is where he shines best, gaining nearly a quarter shot per round on the surface. Finished third in the RSM last year.

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