RSM Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis
Charles Howell III had begun to wonder if he would ever win a tournament again. A prolific money winner and regular fixture in the top-10 most weeks, he arrived at Sea Island Resort 12 months ago for the RSM Classic having failed to record a single victory in 11 years.
He had plenty of chances to finish the job but came up short time after time. And it hurt him. But it finally came right for Howell III at Sea island, where he led from start to finish. However, he still required a strong finish to earn his third PGA Tour title. Howell birdied three of his final four holes to tie Patrick Rodgers, then won with a birdie on the second playoff hole. Howell, who started the day with a one-shot lead, converted a 54-hole lead for the first time in his career. He shot 31 on the back nine on the final day to do it.
“I thought I had it in me, but I had never seen me do it to prove it to myself,” said Howell, who finished at 19-under 267 (64-64-68-67). “It’s kind of like the guy who thinks he can dunk, bud if you can’t dunk, you just can’t do it. I thought I had it in me but it took me a bit to actually do it.”
It was Howell’s first victory since 2007 and it came in his 529th start. Only two players needed more starts to reach their third PGA Tour win. Remarkably, he has 16 runner-up finishes in his career. The win saw him start 2019 as the FedExCup leader, but it looked like he was going to let another one slip through his fingers.
Howell was already three off the lead when he stood on the third tee. He bogeyed the first hole after driving into a fairway bunker, then made double-bogey with a drive into the hazard to the right of the second fairway. He thought his chances of winning were over. But this time he was not to be denied. He started his comeback with birdies at the fifth and sixth holes to reach the turn in 36 and then started his back nine with another birdie.
Four players — Howell, Rodgers, Webb Simpson and Cameron Champ — shared the lead on the back nine. Rodgers, playing in the third-to-last group, pulled two ahead with birdies on 14 and 15. Howell was able to chase him down, though. It started with a two-putt birdie at the par-five 15th, the day’s easiest hole. Then he holed an 18-footer for birdie on the 16th to tie Simpson and Rodgers at 18 under par. Rodgers birdied the 18th hole before Howell hit his five-foot birdie putt on the par-three 17th.
“That almost made my putt easier because then I knew, well, you have to make this to have a chance on 18,” Howell said. Howell made that birdie at the 17th to tie Rodgers. On the 18th, Howell dropped to his knees as his 22-foot birdie putt missed by the smallest of margins. He barely missed his 14-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole, as well, but finally holed one that really mattered on the second extra hole.
“Golf is a brutal game. The highs of the highs, it comes with a lot of really low lows,” Howell said. “It’s a wonderful lesson to be learnt that if you truly believe in what you’re doing, to stay the course.”
Cameron Champ’s impressive fall season concluded with a sixth-place finish at Sea Island. He was tied for the lead with nine holes remaining at Sea Island Golf Club, but he could only manage an even-par 35 on the back nine. He reached 17 under par with his birdie on the par-5 15th, but his chances ended with a bogey on the 17th hole. Fourteen of his last 16 rounds had been in the 60s. He was in the top 10 after 13 of those rounds. His 117 birdies were the most ever made in the fall portion of the wraparound schedule and secured him the Birdies Fore Love competition. He earned $300,000 for charity. And, of course, he has carried on where he left off with an early win this season.
The tournament is hosted by Davis Love III and features a decent field, with Presidents Cup participants Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson and Adam Hadwin taking part in what is the last official PGA Tour event before this year’s competition. Lanto Griffin, who currently tops the FedExCup standings, will be looking to continue his fantastic run of form, alongside former winners Mackenzie Hughes, Robert Streb, Austin Cook, Ben Crane, and Kevin Kisner.
This is the 10th staging and four of the nine winners made the event their first PGA Tour win (Austin Cook, Hughes, Streb and Tommy Gainey). It is the last event for PGA Tour pros to earn FedExCup points prior to 2020, along with the final opportunity to earn a spot in January's Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Sea Island Golf Club measures just 7,005 yards and the winner will need to go low. The course record is 60 and the tournament record is the 260 achieved by Kisner. Love III and his brother Mark redesigned the Plantation Course at Sea Island in 2019. Entrants will play one of their first two rounds on the Plantation.
It was won in 2011 by Ben Crane, in 2012 by Tommy Gainey, in 2013 by Chris Kirk, in 2014 by Robert Streb, in 2015 by Kevin Kisner, in 2016 by Mackenzie Hughes, in 2017 by Austin Cook and last year by Howell III.
Kevin Kisner. Still smarting from failure to make Presidents Cup
Matt Kuchar. Another week, another big pay cheque
Webb Simpson. Enjoying the best form of his life
Kevin Kisner. Ready to win again
Matt Kuchar. Is there a more consistent golfer anywhere?
Webb Simpson. Full of self-belief again
Charles Howell III. Returns with great memories
Lanto Griffin. Walking on air
Adam Hadwin. One of the best swings on the planet
Harris English. Showing some great form
Luke Donald. If ever there was a venue that was made for him, this is it
Scottie Scheffler. The next big thing
Aaron Wise. Looking to get back on track
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