RSM Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis
KEVIN KISNER returns to Sea Island Resort for the RSM Classic, desperately trying to recapture the form that saw him win the event three years ago. This is a tournament that has seen several players record their first PGA Tour victories, including last year’s champion, Austin Cook.
It was won in 2011 by Ben Crane, in 2012 by the incomparable Tommy Gainey, in 2013 by Chris Kirk, in 2014 by Robert Streb, in in 2015 by Kisner, in 2016 by Mackenzie Hughes and last year by Cook. It was a life-changing week for Cook, a rookie, who held off proven winners such as Brian Gay, Chris Kirk, Kisner and Brian Harman on a windy final day.
"It was definitely exciting ... real brutal with the wind," Cook said. "I got off to a slow start but I was able to keep my head level and know there was a lot of golf to be played. With the wind and those conditions, a lot could happen. Cook, who has Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley, on his bag, made his only mistake at the second hole with what was only his second bogey of the entire week. He missed only two fairways in the final round and made par after four of his five missed greens. He led the field in scrambling, converting 11 of 12 pars after missing greens, and tied for fourth by hitting 48 of 56 fairways.
"With Kip on the bag, he was able to keep me in the moment and keep me pressing instead of playing conservative," Cook said. "There was a lot of stuff going on, mostly up here (tapping his head). My ball-striking was great and for the most part, my putting was great. Holding the nerves down, playing a good round in these conditions. ... I'm so happy.”
Cook birdied three of his last four holes after the three-shot lead he began the day with slipped to one over JJ Spaun. Cook made a 14-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to finish at 21-under 261. Spaun shot a 66. Gay eagled the par-4 18th hole from 161 yards with a 9-iron to break out of a five-way tie for third and finish at 16 under. He shot 68.
Kirk (71) and Kisner (68), Harman (65) and Andrew Landry (67) tied for fourth at 14 under. It was the second year in a row that a rookie won The RSM Classic. Mac Hughes survived a five-way playoff to capture the title in 2016 in a Monday finish.
Kisner clearly loves Sea Island and will surely feel that it is time to get his act together again after what turned out to be a pretty indifferent 2017-18 season. He is a golfer who rarely looks as if he is enjoying himself win a golf course, even when he is playing well. And he had plenty of moments last season when he did not perform to anything like his potential.
Ollie Schniederjans will have looked on enviously at the performance of Cook and several other rookies last season and wonder when his time will come. He possesses one of the sweetest swings on the PGA Tour, has a fantastic temperament and most pundits would have backed him to have been in the winners’ circle by now. He has come close, but is still looking to smoke the fat cigar. The young American has made a disappointing start to the new campaign and will be looking to improve on his 98th-place finish in the FedEx Cup standings.
Schniederjans missed eight cuts last season but did enjoy three top-10 finishes, including a third. He is a much better player than that and there is a sense that once he gets that first victory under his belt then the floodgates could well open.
Charles Howell III begins another season looking to get back in the winners’ enclosure for the first time since 2007. He is an infuriating player. Howell has amassed a fortune by piling up vast numbers of top-10 finishes but there is a real sense that he simply isn’t hungry enough. How else do you else a golfer who missed only four cuts in 28 starts and achieved 14 top-10 finishes. Week after week he seems to be there or thereabouts going into the weekend but when it comes to closing the deal he always comes up short. He has won just twice in a career that has promised so much without being able to deliver when it really matters. Howell has won more than $36m in prize money but his best finish in a major came at the 2003 US PGA Championship, way back in 2003, when he was 10th. It just doesn’t add up.
It looked as if Webb Simpson’s career might be heading there same way, but something happened to the former US Open champion in 2018. First, of all he found a putting stroke that works. Simpson was one of a number fo players who suffered horribly when anchored putting was outlawed and for a time it seemed that his career might be over. But he refused to be cowed and kept plugging away. And this year the hard work was finally rewarded. He won The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in glorious fashion and it inspired him to go and enjoy arguably the best year of his career on the PGA Tour. That victory in Florida was his first in five long years. Apart from his victory there was also a runner-up finish and nine top-10s as he won more than $5.3m in prize money and earned himself a place on Jim Furyk’s US Ryder Cup team. Confidence and self-belief are amazing things and Simpson is fun of it right now. He will be looking to kick on, and Sea Island should suit his game, which is built around accurate driving.
Bud Cauley was involved in a car accident last summer that heavily curtailed his playing schedule. Thankfully, the 28-year-old is now fully recovered and has made a promising start to the 2018-19 season. He is one of a number of underrated PGA Tour players. Still looking for his first victory, he stands just 5ft 7in but he what he lacks in stature he more than makes up for in spirit.
Kevin Kisner. Right at home here
Webb Simpson. A winner again
Sean O’Hair. Coming off the back of a decent season
Kevin Kisner. Feels he has a point to prove
Webb Simpson. A cussed character
Sean O’Hair. Better than he thinks
Charles Howell III. Serial underachiever
Ollie Schniederjans. Beautiful golf swing
Chris Kirk. Has a decent record here
Bud Cauley. Coming back to full fitness
Cameron Champ. What a start to his PGA Tour career
Bronson Burgoon. Will be inspired by Champ’s achievements
Zach Johnson. Finds the fairway, finds the green, holes the putts
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