The RSM Classic may have a new name this year — formerly known as the McGladrey — but don’t expect much change to the competitive nature of this event. Two of the past five tournaments have gone to a sudden-death playoff, including Robert Streb’s win last year, and the other three were won by one stroke.
This year’s tournament will be held on two Sea Island courses: the traditional Seaside plus the Plantation. If the breeze is blowing, watch out. With several holes right on St. Simons Sound, club selection can get tricky.
This tournament wraps up the fall portion of the PGA Tour schedule, so it’s one last opportunity for players to move up the FedExCup standings before the holiday break.
With that in mind, here are five players to watch this weekend:
5. Davis Love III
Reason to watch: At 51, most guys are picking up some extra spending money on the Champions Tour or pondering life after professional golf. Not Love. Not only is he enmeshed in plans to capture the Ryder Cup next fall in Minnesota, but he’s busy this weekend as the official tournament host. Oh, and he’s also playing the first two rounds with son Dru and Justin Thomas, whose combined ages still fall far short of the elder Love.
But he’s not just here as the local celebrity. He still has the game to go after the young guns, having won the Wyndham Championship in August. Plus, that father-son competitive spirit ought to crank the emotions up a notch.
4. Chris Kirk
Reason to watch: Local knowledge? Check. Kirk lives nearby on St. Simons Island. Former champion? Check. The 2013 champion not only knows his way around Sea Island, but he’s familiar with what it takes to win here. He finished two strokes out of last year’s playoff, but shot four rounds in the 60s.
He won the Crowne Plaza Invitational last season and made the FedExCup playoffs despite a six-week layoff after breaking his wrist playing with his kids. He’s off to a slow start this season, with two middling finishes at the Frys.com Open and HSBC Champions, but he’s always a threat to play well here.
3. Robert Streb
Reason to watch: Streb’s win here last fall kickstarted a season in which he recorded six top-10s — including a tie for 10th in the PGA Championship — and lost the Greenbrier Classic in a four-way playoff.
This is his fourth start of the new season, and he’s gradually improving. After missing the cut in Napa, he faded some after a pair of 69s at the CIMB Classic and then wound up in a tie for 35th at the HSBC Champions. This weekend is one more opportunity for Streb to put some FedExCup points in the bank before things pick up again in January.
2. Zach Johnson
Reason to watch: A native of Iowa, it’s no surprise Johnson wanted to find a warmer winter home once he turned professional. So he’s not a Sea Island native, but it’s a place he knows well — particularly this time of the year. The Open champion is making his season debut this weekend, coming off a season in which he finished sixth in the FedExCup, highlighted by 10 top-10 finishes.
It’s not like Johnson’s been a couch potato since September. He played on the winning Presidents Cup squad and was selected as an honorary captain at an Iowa football game. His game is perfectly suited to Sea Island — keep the ball in the fairway and use the short game to your best advantage. If he’s able to do that, he’ll be in the mix on Sunday.
1. Justin Thomas
Reason to watch: It’s about time to quit referring to Thomas as “Jordan Spieth’s good buddy.” If Thomas has the kind of year he’s capable of — and he’s already off to a great start with a win in the CIMB Classic — perhaps Spieth will be second banana to Thomas in 2016. After all, he's the longest hitter -- pound-for-pound at all of 145 pounds -- on the Tour already.
The game’s always been there, as evidenced by his top-40 world ranking. The hardest thing for Thomas in the past year or two has been closing the deal on the weekends. He proved he could do that with a 67-66 finish in Malaysia, following a tie for third in the season-opening Frys.com Open.
Now he has the chance to overtake FedExCup points leader Russell Knox — who is taking this week off — heading into the break. Another good result at Sea Island would be a huge confidence boost when the season resumes in Hawaii.
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