RSM Classic 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
We’ve reached the end of the show. For now, anyway.
After a wild ride across continents and oceans, the 2021 portion of the wraparound schedule concludes on idyllic St. Simons Island, Ga. with the RSM Classic.
The gentlemen have one last chance to collect points and cash from the $1.296 million purse before they go home to rest, recuperate and in some cases, regroove a lost swing or stroke.
The tournament is split over two courses. The field plays one round on the par-70, 7,005-yard Seaside and one on the 7,060-yard par-72 Plantation before the low 65 and ties play the final two rounds on Seaside. Plantation has three simple par 5s and is the easier of the two.
There are nine par 4s between 400 and 450 yards on Seaside and longer hitters will often opt for less than driver since avoiding the rough is imperative to attacking the hole locations. In three of the last four years 5 under was the cut and the other year it was 4 under. So there’s little room for mistakes on a course where players hit more than 71 percent of the fairways and nearly 74 percent of the greens – both well above the Tour average.
The fall fling on St. Simons Island has produced unexpected champions through the years: Robert Streb, Tyler Duncan, Charles Howell III, Austin Cook and Mackenzie Hughes are the last five winners. For three of them, it was their only Tour trophy. Nobody had any of the pros on the top of their card entering the week.
What they have in common is accuracy off the tee and into the greens and hot putting. The winning score will once again be in the 20-under range unless the wind gets crazy (15 mph expected with possible gusts to 20 mph). And the cool, crisp temperatures should make the greens extra slippery and perhaps a touch firm.
We targeted golfers who have played well at Sea Island or on similar seaside courses. Put an emphasis on Bermuda putters and good wind players and tried to ride the hot hands from the fall season. The way things have unfolded at this tournament lately, you may find the winner in the cheaper portion of our rankings.
- Nick Hardy, Kramer Hickok, Matthew NeSmith, Chad Ramey, Nick Watney
As always, good luck. Thanks for reading this year and enjoy the holidays. Travel light.
Golfer power rankings
25. Camilo Villegas – Strong record at Sea Island includes a runner-up in 2016 and a T-6 last year. Enters in decent form, having made seven of the last nine cuts. Ranks second in the field in putting from 10-15 feet on fast, Bermuda greens.
24. Justin Rose – Solid wind player ranks top 15 in the field in scoring on courses less than 7,200 yards and top 5 on fast Bermuda greens. He finished 10th in August on a similar test at Sedgefield and finished T-40 at Mayakoba last time out.
23. Matt Wallace – Backing the volatile Englishman can be maddening but the model identified Wallace as one of the top values this week, so it’s worth a shot near the bottom of your roster. Top 20 in the field in fairways, greens and SG: Approach in windy conditions. T-14 at Shriners and T-4 at ZoZo in two fall starts.
22. Brendon Todd – Fits the course profile as a fairway and green finding plodder who can sizzle on the greens. Enjoyed success this fall with a T-22 at Fortinet and T-11 at Mayakoba. Finished fourth here in 2019 and T-16 in 2013.
21. Henrik Norlander – Made 10 of the last 11 cuts, playing the weekend in Houston despite not having his best ballstriking. That’s a testament to his scoring ability and current confidence level. Has two top 5s in this tournament since 2016.
20. Matt Kuchar – The St. Simons resident has made four of his last five cuts, landing better than 36th each time. Has made the cut here in seven of nine tries. Excellent mid-range putter on fast Bermuda who should have ample opportunities and supreme course knowledge.
19. Joel Dahmen – It typically comes down to the putter for the reliable ballstriker and he’s trending upward with that club, gaining strokes on the greens in three of the last four tournaments. He’s cashed checks in nine of 10 starts and gained 5.5 shots on approach to finish T-5 in Houston.
18. Branden Grace – Loves the seaside courses, having won up the road at Harbour Town in the past and down in Puerto Rico earlier this year. Irons went awry in a missed cut last week but just presents a good opportunity to buy low. Another dependable wind player who can bury mid-range putts.
17. Hayden Buckley – Making his first start since Bermuda and seeking his third top 10 of the fall. The T-4 on the same slippery surface at Sanderson Farms is encouraging. Top 20 in the field in Good Drives and Fairways Gained.
16. Patrick Rodgers – Ranks 14th in the field in GIRs over the last 36 rounds and ninth in SG: Total anywhere during the same span. Bit of a wildcard at Sea Island with a runner-up, another top 10 and three missed cuts, but currently enjoying the most consistent play of his Tour career.
15. Alex Smalley – Duke graduate and Sedgefield member should feel comfortable on the Seaside and Plantation greens. Outstanding play this fall – 31-47-12-15 – should ensure plenty of starts in 2022 and give him a fair chance to keep his card. Ranks top 40 in the field in all but one stat we targeted this week.
14. Aaron Rai – Took him a week or two to settle in as a PGA Tour rookie but consecutive top 20s and 5.7 shots gained on approach last week indicate his game is dialed in. Just needs an average week on the greens to contend – has lost strokes in six consecutive outings.
13. Seamus Power – Poor putting cost him the weekend in Houston, however, he’s gone from Tour afterthought to a smart play most weeks in less than a year.
12. Mackenzie Hughes – Claimed his lone PGA Tour victory here in 2016 but has missed the cut three of the last four years. Still, ranks top 10 in the field in SG: Total over the last 36 rounds anywhere, making 11 consecutive cuts and finishing 35-25-4-29 in his last four starts.
11. Alex Noren – Tied for 10th and 18th in his two trips to Sea Island and feels like he’s been knocking on the door of his first PGA Tour victory for several years. Rarely 3-putts, which is important on the massive Sea Island greens, and steady fairway and greens man.
10. Webb Simpson – Has been the king of shorter courses on Bermuda and the North Carolinian thrives in the Southeast. Recent performance 30-MC-14 can be attributed to mediocre iron play but he can heat up with the wedges and putter in a hurry. Has four top 8s here including a pair of runner-ups.
9. Talor Gooch – Making his sixth start of the fall and tasted his first bite of adversity in the final three rounds in Houston, closing 74-75-72 after an opening 65. Top 3o in fairways and greens, seventh in 3-putt avoidance and his solid strikes thrive in the wind.
8. Chris Kirk – Can he find the touch on the greens? Good ballstriking and short game play has allowed him to make seven consecutive cuts but doesn’t have a finish better than 14th in the span. Won here in 2013 and has two top 5s and two more top 20s since.
7. Kevin Kisner – The form is not ideal. Blame it on his attention on his top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. He always seems to find enough game to contend on Sea Island (runner-up last year a win 2015 and three other top 4s since 2014. Won at Sedgefield in August and ranks 13th in the last 50 rounds on courses less than 7,200 yards.
6. Denny McCarthy – Perhaps the best putter on the PGA Tour and loves Bermuda greens. Finished T-15 at Mayakoba and T-11 at Houston the last two weeks. Iron play and overall tee-to-green game are improving. T-8 here in 2019.
5. Harris English – Been taking it easy in the fall on the heels of an outstanding 2020-21 season and playing a role in the U.S. Ryder Cup victory. Missed the cut in his only appearance, in Las Vegas. Top 10 in the field on shorter courses, Bermuda greens and anywhere in recent tournaments.
4. Corey Conners – If he can make enough putts to hang around in a shootout, nobody in the field has better overall ballstriking stats on similar courses. He’s 34 under in three starts on Sea Island with a T-10 last year.
3. Scottie Scheffler – Banging on the door of his first PGA Tour victory with a pair of top 5s in his last two starts and finished T-5 at Sea Island in 2019. Gained 3.6 shots on approach in Houston and finished runner-up despite matching the field average on the greens.
2. Cameron Smith – His 4.1 shots gained on approach last week in a T-15 at Houston was his best effort with the irons since he finished runner-up at Northern Trust. Expect the putter to stay hot. Believe he’ll find Sea Island to his liking in his maiden voyage.
1. Russell Henley – Has been so close in the last 12 months and a Bermuda greens course in Georgia feels like the ideal location for a victory. Gained at least 3.1 shots on approach in four of his last five tournaments. With three top 10s in this event since 2014, it’s a course that suits his eye.