Lee Hodges is a strong each-way fancy
Lee Hodges is a strong each-way fancy

Ben Coley's golf betting tips: RSM Classic preview and best bets


Golf expert Ben Coley previews the final full-field event of the PGA Tour year, and he's got six big-priced selections for the RSM Classic.

Golf betting tips: RSM Classic

1.5pts e.w. Matthew NeSmith at 40/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Andrew Putnam at 50/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Harris English at 50/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Lee Hodges at 70/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Greyson Sigg at 80/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Tyson Alexander at 250/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

  • Note: Published 5hrs prior to Tony Finau's withdrawal

By rights, the only name you should ever have to utter if someone decides they know how a golfer's entire career will pan out is that of Tony Finau. Once the nearly-man of the PGA Tour even at a time when he was a PGA Tour winner, Finau has now won four times in 15 months. In a sport where you've usually got a hundred or more opponents to beat, it really is reasonable to say that the floodgates have opened.

Of course, that won't stop 'em. Thomas Detry? Can't win. Won't win. Except Richard Bland couldn't, and he did. Time and again the most reliable predictor of a golfer's future is how good they are at golf, not how many trophies they've so far collected, yet still we dance the dance. At least the only remaining maiden in the top 50 of the Official Golf World Rankings, Mito Pereira, will soon be off to join the dark side.

Back to Finau, and suddenly the question is not can he win, but can he win back-to-back tournaments for the second time since July? Given the way he dominated things in Houston, the possibility is a realistic one. And yet if there's one event on the schedule you'd want to be heading to with the ambition of turning over a short-priced favourite, it might just be the RSM Classic.

This is the final full-field event of the PGA Tour year, and it shows.

You'll know by now that Sea Island's own Don Love the Third will be hosting barbecues where Russell Henley's guitar leads unironic renditions of Born in the USA and other members of the 'Sea Island mafia', past and present, debate which characters from Gomorrah they best resemble.

You might also know that Heath Slocum caused a major upset in the first edition, Ben Crane came from six behind with nine to play to win the second, and Tommy Gainey stole the third from under the noses of David Toms and Jim Furyk. And that, somehow, first Webb Simpson and then Kevin Kisner were denied by huge outsiders.

Perhaps we are due something more conventional, but I wouldn't bet on it. Finau just bossed things on a long, hard course which accentuates the gaps between players. Sea Island's Seaside and Plantation courses, which share hosting duties over the first two days, do the opposite. Even Love himself can't be totally ruled out.

One thing we do know is that finding fairways is important on two positional courses whose defence is the wind, of which enough is forecast to keep a lid on scoring. Still, it will be low, and there's no denying that some hot putters have won this tournament down the years. Simpson might not have won this title, but he is the blueprint.

Perhaps then the answer is, well, Simpson, and he did sign off the CJ Cup with an encouraging final-round 68. That said he's a pale shadow of his former self and while keen to keep this fairly speculative, my strongest selections are players who have produced much of their best golf in 2022.

First is MATTHEW NESMITH, who can be backed at similar odds to last week in what's now a much weaker field, for an event played on likely more suitable courses.

NeSmith has never finished worse than 29th in three starts in the RSM Classic, and his affiliation with Sea Island stretches back to a fine college career. Among the many highlights was his victory in the SEC Championship here, where he led after every round and won by a distance, and it would be a fitting place for his professional breakthrough.

The same could be said of Copperhead, where he'd also played plenty of junior golf and came so close to winning the Valspar Championship earlier in the year. That effort, when flushing his way to third place behind Sam Burns, was the highlight of his best season yet โ€“ but three top-10s in five starts to begin the new one suggest he may soon improve upon it.

NeSmith's hot run came to an end last week in Houston, but it was his worst driving performance in 18 months that caused it. He's usually rock-solid off the tee and at a long, tough, relentless course like Memorial Park, I'm not sure there's much to be gained in dwelling on a player struggling in the way he did, not when it's anomalous.

Here at Sea Island, his fairways and greens game should be much more effective and having guided him to ninth in Jackson, second in Las Vegas and ninth again in Japan, I doubt it's now deserted him.

The fact he produced his best ball-striking on Sunday offers further encouragement that he can get back on the bike and contend here in Georgia, his putting stats on bermuda are far superior to any other surface, and there's enough juice in prices of 33/1 and upwards.

Putnam to putt them into submission

Another player who has stayed put in the betting from the Houston Open is Jason Day and he's difficult for me to leave out, having put him up for that event. On the face of it this is simply more winnable and Day has been one of the most eye-catching performers of the autumn, but while 12th place here in 2020 was a good effort a week after the Masters, I wouldn't have him down as an ideal candidate for an RSM Classic whereas Memorial Park is made for him.

I'd say the same about Davis Riley, who but for a shocking week with the putter would've been right in the battle for second place behind Finau, so those two are begrudgingly left out in favour of ANDREW PUTNAM.

One of the most accurate drivers and best putters on the PGA Tour, Putnam really is the kind of player we see contending here every year. Despite his lack of length, even he has said in the past that he doesn't hit too many drivers at Sea Island, and that makes this more about what happens from that second shot onwards.

Such a formula is ideal for a player who ranked sixth in fairways last week but lost considerable ground off the tee. Here, ranking sixth in fairways is likely to put a player at an advantage, the fact they're only averaging 275 yards off the tee really not important, and everything else he's done of late has been of a very high standard.

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Three times in four, Putnam has ranked sixth or better in scrambling. Five starts running, he's gained strokes with his approaches, enough to rank 26th on Tour among those who've played more than 10 rounds. He's 21st in putting using the same parameters, inside the top dozen in FedEx Cup points, and is simply playing some of the best golf of his career.

As for his Sea Island form, Putnam was 12th on his debut here in 2014, ranking fourth in strokes-gained tee-to-green but suffering a quiet week with the putter. He missed the cut narrowly on his return three years later, and then after another three-year break came back here and shot a pair of 66s for 37th.

Last year's 66-73 for another narrow missed cut saw him produce his best score at the Seaside course and, as he has done on all four starts in the event, gain strokes with his approaches.

It's not an outstanding record by any means, but it is an encouraging one โ€“ and I don't think he's ever come here with his game in the shape it's in now. With his skill set fundamentally made for this test and cool conditions no issue for a player from the Pacific Northwest, he can return to the level that saw him go close to winning the ZOZO Championship three starts back.

English can be rewarded for his patience

There are a handful of classy types around the 50/1 mark include Simpson, Kisner and Justin Rose, and it was good to see the latter firing again on his second start back from injury.

Rose is like Day in many ways in that he has a good piece of form here without necessarily being the type of player you'd expect to see in the mix, and the fact both are among the highest hitters in the game is another small negative with some breeze around.

HARRIS ENGLISH falls into a similar bracket in terms of class and there have been signs lately that he's ready to contend again.

English was forced to miss two majors in the spring having been out for almost six months due to injury, and it really took until the start of the new season for him to get properly back on track with a flying finish to the Fortinet Championship.

Ninth place there was followed back a backwards step in Mississippi but since then he's gone 28-40-32-39, all in stronger fields than this. Among these 16 rounds he's broken 70 on 10 occasions and only on a difficult Sunday in Houston has he shot worse than 72 as he reins in those big misses off the tee which can often be his downfall.

Signs are that he's tidied up his driving game. First, English ranked eighth in fairways at El Camaleon, and then he gained strokes off the tee in Houston, something he'd managed just twice all year including when ninth in the Fortinet. Given that he boasts one of the best short-games around and is capable of quality iron play, English is always likely to be a threat if he can stay competitive off the tee.

Coming home to Sea Island, an event he's never missed and where he's lived for so much of his career, this Georgia boy is entitled to take another step forward off the tee. He has in fact gained strokes in that department in each of the last six renewals, even when he was struggling with a huge miss which threatened to ruin a promising career, and like Putnam that's likely something to do with the fact driver isn't often needed.

Sixth here after a flying finish in 2020, he's since won twice to climb as high as 10th in the world, but now finds himself outside the top 50 because of misfortune. That should ensure he's focused on completing his comeback with a big performance and I fancy him do produce it in front of friends and family.

Harris English poses with the trophy after winning the Travelers Championship
Harris English can threaten a fifth PGA Tour win

In general, players from the southern states have done best in this event and with good reason. We've had winners from South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia, others from Arkansas and Oklahoma, several of them familiar with the courses and the region in general.

Doubtless some Sea Island residents have struggled to live up to expectations, but plenty have threatened to win and all of the current residents should be looked at.

LEE HODGES isn't based here but does have stacks of experience across both courses and he's one I've had in mind for this event for some time.

I was therefore pleased to see him miss the cut in Houston in the way he did, driving the ball well, shooting a solid opening round but just failing to make the weekend. That's ideal, as it keeps him off the radar despite 38th place in Mexico, seventh at the CJ Cup and 23rd in Japan before that.

In fact, Hodges has been playing well for months, seldom missing a cut and doing so only narrowly on those odd occasions. He was 13th in elite company at Southwind, 16th behind Finau when hanging around close to the lead in the 3M Open and again close to some world-class players entering the weekend in Canada and at the Travelers Championship.

Back at the start of the year he led through 54 holes when third in The American Express before defying a slow start to be ninth in the Honda, and there are themes running through most of his best performances: bermuda greens, short courses, familiar conditions.

He gets all of those here. Hodges made his PGA Tour debut in the 2018 RSM Classic, making the cut and carding a couple of 66s. He finished in a similar position last year, early on in his rookie campaign, having opened with a round of 63 and been close to the leaders at halfway.

Now he gets to play an event for the third time, something he's never done before. I'd note that his sole Korn Ferry Tour win came at the site of his first top-10 finish on that circuit, and his PGA Tour breakthrough could come at a place with similarly positive memories.

Hodges has actually won an event at Sea Island, back in 2020, when he got the better of English in a tournament designed to prepare professionals for the PGA Tour's summer return following the pandemic-enforced break.

English said it felt like a real tournament and it was packed with PGA Tour players, so Hodges did well to win it. He was also part of the Alabama team that won the SEC Championship here in 2018, playing his part in the match play.

Since all this he's established himself as a solid young player who should be at his most effective close to home. We saw hints of that at Congaree when seventh behind Rory McIlroy, and in a field like this he looks ready to go even better than that.

Sea Islander Sigg to shine

Hayden Buckley played here as an amateur albeit without a great deal of success, and he's improving all the time as an understated but effective professional. Having been on him at 80/1 in a stronger Mexico field he's of some appeal here, but his biggest weapon is how he drives the ball and if that is negated somewhat, it's enough combined with a missed cut last year to eliminate him from calculations.

Preference instead is for GREYSON SIGG, who co-captained the Georgia team that won the SEC title here in 2016.

He returned to shoot 64 at Seaside last year only to stumble at Plantation and miss the cut, but that was enough of a clue that he might step up now he's showing improved form. Sigg's four best PGA Tour finishes have come in his last 10 starts, so that certainly is the case.

His results, which show five cuts made in five to begin the new season and a run of 16-27-26-7 during July, could be better still. Sigg was seventh entering Sunday in Mexico but fell to 42nd, and a week earlier he'd sat sixth in Bermuda only to shoot 72 and miss the top 10 by a shot.

We suffered a similar fate when he started the final round at Pebble Beach in 10th place but was soon out of the running, but his profile is one of improvement and as the winner of an event at Korn Ferry Tour Finals last year, one of two titles at that level, he should soon figure out how to stand tall on Sunday.

As far as his game goes, Sigg gained strokes off the tee and with his approaches last season, ranking around 50th in both fairways and greens and marking himself down as a solid ball-striker in the NeSmith mould. The issue was putting it all together on and around the green, and that's where we've seen better things lately: he ranks 20th for putting so far this season having lost strokes throughout the last one.

Known as a good putter at KFT level, Sigg looks to have that fundamental part of his game back where he needs it and it all makes for an ideal Sea Island profile. Sigg, Georgia through-and-through, is one of those who is based here and he returns home with his game firing on all cylinders.

Can Tyson land a knockout blow?

At bigger prices, former winner Austin Cook is hinting that he could go well, veteran Ryan Armour likewise, and both played nicely under far less suitable conditions in Houston. So did Zach Johnson, making his first start of the season, and I wonder if the 2023 Ryder Cup captain might've taken encouragement from Luke Donald's effort at Sun City.

Johnson's record here is excellent and the standout 200/1 has to be considered in an event where veterans can be competitive, but I'll chance last week's runner-up TYSON ALEXANDER to extend his good play through the final event of the year.

Alexander wasn't much of an amateur so his record here in events like the SEC Championship isn't up to much either, but some experience can't hurt and he's another from the southeast, having gone to college with Billy Horschel in Florida.

Now a PGA Tour rookie at the age of 34, it's easy to write off second place behind Finau as some sort of freak result, and certainly he'll have benefited from the fact that winning that tournament didn't really look realistic throughout the weekend.

That said, second place to just about secure his status for the following season was a huge effort and the stats say there was nothing freakish about it: Alexander simply did everything well, and was in fact the best player in the field from tee-to-green.

Prior to it he'd played nicely for three rounds in Bermuda, before that he shot rounds of 65 and 66 in an up-and-down performance at the Shriners, and I just wonder what price he'd be here were he a 25-year-old with a reputation, rather than a journeyman figure.

The flip side to this argument is that he's now priced among players who had been more reliable on the Korn Ferry Tour, but two wins on that circuit plus his performance last week suggest Alexander is exactly where he belongs even if it's taken him a while to get here.

He's got blowout potential make no mistake, but it's rare we can back last week's runner-up at such a big price and isn't an opportunity I want to pass up.

Posted at 1200 GMT on 15/11/22

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