RSM Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis
MACKENZIE HUGHES won a dramatic RSM Classic at Sea Island 12 months ago, emerging as the victor after a five-man playoff with Camillo Villegas, Blayne Barber, Billy Herschel and Henrik Norlander. He set up his maiden victory with a sensational opening round of 61.
The tournament, which is hosted by Davis Love III, is played at Sea Island, a stunning tree-lined course that measures a little over 7,000 yards. It features fairly generous fairways but is protected by plenty of well-placed bunkers and tricky greens. Hit the ball in the right place and it is possible to go low - really low. As Hughes proved last year.
The tournament was won in 2010 by Heath Slocum, in 2011 by Ben Crane, in 2012 by Tommy Gainey, in 2013 by Chris Kirk, in 2014 by Robert Streb, in 2015 by Kevin Eisner, and by Hughes last year. These men all have one thing in common - they are not bombers. So the message is clear - if you are looking for a potential winner, you need to identify players who find fairways and putt well.
And that means the ideal identikit winner can only be...Matt Kuchar. The American is one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour, week after week churning out world-class golf, week after week producing top-10 finishes. It could be argued that he does not turn his good play into victories often enough but he has won seven times on the PGA Tour, and nobody does that unless they can play a bit.
Last season was typical of Kuchar. He enjoyed nine top-10 finishes and 17 top-25 finishes in 26 starts. Most memorably, he finished runner-up to Jordan Spieth in The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. He kept his composure when Spieth took almost 30 minutes to play the 13th hole after hitting a wayward drive and then had to work out where he was going to drop the ball to hit his third shot. Many tour professionals would have made it known to Spieth that they were not amused by his antics on that hole, but Kuchar simply spent the time chatting to his caddie and smiling. He smiles a lot.
He parred that 13th hole, while Spieth ended up recording a miraculous bogey. Kuchar led The Open. He then had to watch Spieth play the next four holes in five under par to claim the Claret Jug. So Kuchar had to settle for another runners-up finish. But he won a huge army of new fans through the way he played and the way he accepted his fate. He was truly magnanimous in defeat and paid generous tribute to his young opponent.
Kuchar is one of the straightest drivers on the planet and is a hugely underrated putter - nobody achieves as many top-10 finishes as does Kuchar unless he can putt.
Kisner will also return to Sea Island with positive vibes. He is one of the most underrated players on the PGA Tour and is now a proven winner. Winning is a good habit top get into, and of course it breeds confidence. Kisner was one of the stars of the American team in the recent Presidents Cup and now feels like he belongs at the summit of the game. There are no areas in which he excels. On the other hand, he has no real weaknesses. He is also somebody who works incredibly hard at his game, always looking for ways to improve. And, of course, he has won here before.
Patton Kizzire played well at the recent Shriners, and backed that up by securing his maiden PGA Tour victory in Mexico at the weekend. He made fantastic progress when he first joined the paid ranks and looked like he was going to be one of the game's next superstars, but he lost his way. Last season he finished second at the season-opening Safeway Open but then went on to miss 14 cuts. What frustrated him more than anything else was that one week he would reel off four rounds in the 60s and the next he would turn up and play like an 18-handicapper.
When you watch Kizzire swing a golf club it is difficult to understand why he doesn't contend every week. One thing is certain - if this is one of his good weeks then he will be there or thereabouts.
Sea Island is also a venue that should suit England's Luke Donald, and if ever man could do with a big week then it is Donald. The former world number one continues to slide down the world rankings and it is difficult to believe that his last victory came in 2012. Last season he missed 14 cuts, including eight in a row during one miserable spell from the end of April through to August. Had it not been for his second place at the RBC Heritage, Donald would actually have lost his card.
It all stemmed from Donald getting it into his head that he had to change his swing in order to generate more distance, even though his existing golf swing had been good enough to take him to the top of the world rankings. To make matters even worse, the golden putting touch that took him to the top of the sport began to betray him - it was hardly surprising because when you are playing poorly you start to put added pressure on all parts of your game. Sea Island should suit him. Fingers crossed that it works out that way for the Englishman.
To Win: Kevin Kisner. Returns with good memories
Each Way: Matt Kuchar. Difficult to bet against him
Each Way: Patton Kizzire. Glorious rhythm
Kevin Kisner. Great iron player
Matt Kuchar. The money-making machine
Patton Kizzire. Looking for consistency
Ollie Schniederjans. The next big young thing
Stewart Cink. Showing signs of life
Bill Haas. Underrated
Luke Donald. In desperate need of some confidence
Brandt Snedeker. Searching for form and fitness
Charles Howell III. Another week, another top 10. Probably
Harris Englis. Too good to keep struggling
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