PGA Tour's RSM Classic: Betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Webb Simpson is favourite for the RSM Classic - but is he a bet?
Webb Simpson is favourite for the RSM Classic - but is he a bet?

Ben Coley has six selections, five of which are at three-figure prices, ahead of the final full-field PGA Tour event of 2019.

Recommended bets

1pt e.w. Russell Henley at 50/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Chesson Hadley at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Luke List at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Robert Streb at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Maverick McNealy at 175/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. D.J. Trahan at 175/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Put on your glad rags and get Russell Henley the guitar: it's time for the PGA Tour's end-of-year party as Sea Island and neighbouring St Simons Island welcome some familiar faces to the RSM Classic.

Fifty years after Davis Love III's father moved here, this part of Georgia is now a care home for the golfer, with various touring professionals - including Love himself - making the most of a gaggle of quality golf courses, ace practice facilities and a general feeling that you can leave your troubles behind as you hit the F.J. Torras Causeway.

All of that helps to cultivate a relaxed environment, and you could say that in turn helps explain two things: one, the fact that only one winner in nine previous renewals has been from the very front of the market, and two, that the latest slightly surprising winner was none other than Charles Howell, who triumphed in a play-off last year.

Howell had gone 11 years since winning on the PGA Tour, and when he dropped three shots over the first two holes of the final round, you'd have had to consult a very close relative of one of the sweetest souls on the circuit for positives. And yet, somehow, he went six-under over the final 14 holes, before adding one more birdie to deny Patrick Rodgers victory after he'd gone 61-62 from the cut line.

OK, Howell wasn't a shocking winner, but the only champion here who arrived with a bombproof profile and accordingly short price was Kevin Kisner, who romped to his breakthrough title in 2015. Otherwise, the market leaders - and they're always the same gang - have come up just short, with Matt Kuchar never really engaging top gear, Zach Johnson taking time to threaten, and Webb Simpson twice being a little unfortunate not to collect.

Simpson is favourite and so he should be. Third last year and beaten in a 2011 play-off, he's not been adversely affected by the addition of a second course in 2015, with 18 holes now played on the Plantation together with 54 - for those making the cut - at the better-known Seaside Course. He owns the best scoring average in the field of those who've played here three times or more and, having been seventh in Las Vegas when last seen, the case is obvious.

If you want one bet and one bet only, Simpson with seven or eight places is hard to argue against, but I'd much rather fire a few bullets in an event where anything goes. As such, let's work from back to front with D.J. TRAHAN worth backing at 175/1 in a place and 150/1 generally.

Trahan, like many a previous contender here, has strong local ties. Born in Georgia, his family then moved to South Carolina, where a golfing education at Harbour Town made him a quality ball-striker by necessity.

We saw hints of that tee-to-green game last season as he worked his way back from injury with limited starts, bagging top-20 finishes by the coast at Pebble Beach, in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, to go with top-10 finishes in the Sanderson Farms and the Barbasol.

Most impressive of all was his 72nd-hole birdie at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, the difference between earning a card and missing out on one, and he looks capable of enjoying a mini-renaissance over the course of a season which has started with some promising stuff across four starts.

Last time out, Trahan finished 24th courtesy of an outstanding display of driving in Bermuda, where a slow start cost him, and while he'll need another step up on that there's every chance he can find it on familiar turf.

Back in 2001, when Trahan was a brilliant amateur, he won the Jones Cup nearby and also played in the Walker Cup at the Seaside Course, albeit in defeat to Great Britain and Ireland. He has a long history at Sea Island, so when he finished 11th and fourth here as a professional, it made sense.

His only other appearance in the RSM Classic was a missed cut in a miserable 2016 campaign - he missed 12 cuts in 15 events and didn't manage a single top 40 - and the hope is he's now in the sort of shape required to show once again that he's well-suited to a pair of courses he knows better than most.

Trahan was first for fairways and second for greens here in 2012 and, at 150/1 generally, he's a really interesting each-way player.

So too is MAVERICK MCNEALY, the formerly top-ranked amateur who nevertheless had to think long and hard before choosing golf over a potential career in business.

In the two years since he opted for golf, rather than follow the route of his billionaire dad, McNealy hasn't quite taken off as expected, but a move to work with Butch Harmon was enough to earn him a PGA Tour card and he can kick on now.

McNealy's support network extends to girlfriend Danielle Kang, the LPGA star who ended her season with finishes of first and second, and it was a pep talk from Kang which saw her boyfriend fire a closing 65 to finish 17th in the Houston Open - an important round as he looks to earn starts in 2020.

That was one of five cuts he's made in a row, including in Mexico last week where this powerhouse impressively scaled back from the tee to rank fourth in fairways hit, and from that foundation he can go really well on the wider, rain-softened courses here at Sea Island, where low scoring is very much the requirement.

Only Lanto Griffin has made more birdies than McNealy so far this season and as well as providing evidence that he should relish the expected shootout, that also leads to a subplot. At the conclusion of this event, whoever has made the most birdies so far in the 2020 campaign will earn a donation to their choice of charity, and perhaps McNealy will eke out a little more as he bids to close a gap of eight.

Anecdotes aside, as a big hitter who is putting well, who stacks up birdies and has been catching the eye throughout the past month, McNealy looks well worth chancing in an event where being a debutant needn't be a hindrance.

Maverick McNealy
Maverick McNealy

It certainly wasn't when ROBERT STREB won here and he's worth chancing for a repeat having led the field in greens hit at the Mayakoba Classic.

Streb's form line of 28-35-14 looks perfectly solid and his record in this event since winning it five years ago is better than it perhaps looks, with 25th as defending champion, a second-round 65 when out of form in 2016, a narrow missed cut in 2017 and a solid 32nd last year.

Having twice been runner-up in the Greenbrier, and earned his card back with a top-five finish in an event he'd won a year earlier, Streb is a horses-for-courses golfer and he knows how to tackle this challenge.

Weekend winds won't bother a man from Oklahoma and he's preferred to Troy Merritt, who might have been in the staking plan at 200/1 generally but is left out at the more general 125/1.

Nick Taylor is playing well enough to leave behind a poor course record and is respected, but next for me is CHESSON HADLEY.

This 32-year-old is a one-time PGA Tour winner, taking the Puerto Rico Open under low-scoring, coastal conditions in 2014, a performance which helped him earn the rookie of the year title.

He's not kicked on from that, but 23rd at the Safeway and 18th at the Shriners represents good US form to start the season, and even when down the field in the CJ Cup he closed with a round of 66 to demonstrate that his game is in good shape.

Hadley's iron play was particularly impressive when he bagged that top-20 finish in Las Vegas and these are ideal conditions for him.

Granted, his course record doesn't read all that well, but he was fifth after round one in 2014 when going on to finish 32nd, and in 2016 he was third at halfway and fifth through 54 holes when completely out of form.

Back then, Hadley was without a top-10 finish all year, hence a closing 77 to drop out of contention, but it again demonstrates that he has the tools to go well at Sea Island and if the putter behaves he can hit the frame.

It was tempting to give Henrik Norlander another spin, given that he's 200/1 again despite having been runner-up here. The Swede went to college at Augusta State and produced some decent stuff last week, so he's left out under sufferance.

Instead, LUKE LIST is worth chancing in the hope that he might emerge from the doldrums to extend a fine record which reads 13-4 since this event switched to two courses.

List was in red-hot form for the first of those efforts, it must be said, but last year he was placed on the back of a missed cut in Mexico, at a course where he's now failed to make the weekend four times in five visits.

The hope is he can repeat the feat here, with the rain and short rough bound to help one of the biggest hitters in the field, who was 13th in Vegas and 28th in Houston last month.

That form doesn't need much improving on to make List a player, rounds of 63 in the Shriners and 66 in Houston suggesting he isn't all that far away, and this Georgia resident is another who strikes me as overpriced.

Finally, to the section of the market which most people are interested in.

Kisner is probably the pick of the first six or seven names, just ahead of Harris English, but the only one I really like is RUSSELL HENLEY.

Last week, Henley was the subject of an extremely harsh rules assessment which cost him eight shots and resulted in a missed cut, and that frustration could just spur him on ahead of an event we know he loves.

A former Sea Island resident who went to college in Georgia, Henley has three top-10 finishes in five starts here and he's shown in both the TOUR Championship and The Masters that he thrives when playing here, something first hinted at when he won the Stadion Classic as an amateur.

Prior to last week, he hadn't missed a cut since July, a closing 61 for second place in the John Deere the undoubted highlight, and he was a very popular selection for Houston two starts back where a fine start was undermined by struggles on both Friday and Saturday.

Who knows how he'd have got on from seven-under at halfway last week, then, but Henley did tell Golfweek that he felt ready to launch a real title challenge.

"I felt like I was gaining momentum with my game," he said. "I felt really confident about my chances; I don’t know about winning but I proved to myself that I can go low on Sunday at the John Deere last year. I had two rounds to get it done and I felt good about my game."

One bogey over 36 holes at El Camaleon represents very good golf and I suspect that had he been able to play on for anything around 10th, he'd have been a good deal shorter than the general 50/1 and standout 60/1 on offer.

His effective disqualification may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for both him and us, with Henley's form on correlating courses like Waialae, Harbour Town, PGA National further underlining that this is the sort of event he wins.

Posted at 1345 GMT on 19/11/19

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