With a lot of the world’s talent lured to the Middle East and the (modest) riches on offer at the DP World Tour Championship, it wouldn’t have been overly surprising if this week’s RSM Classic had an alternate-event vibe about it.
However, that is not the case, perhaps reflecting just how much of a stranglehold the PGA Tour has on the game of golf. Although this is the final regular season event of the year – with the Hero World Challenge boasting a limited-field and the QBE Shootout a team event – the entry list is still fairly stacked.
US Ryder Cup star Harris English will tee it up in his home event at Sea Island Resort, headlining a field that includes the likes of Webb Simpson, Cameron Smith, Adam Scott and Justin Rose. While tournament organisers won’t go as far as to claim they have the strongest line-up in world golf this week, there is still enough talent to justify this as an intriguing watch.
Still, as the final event of the year before the calendar flips over and we reconvene in Kapalua in January, there is a sense that this is a week where someone can make a name for themselves from further down the list of expected winners.
Among those are Irish duo Graeme McDowell and Seamus Power, both players looking to bounce back from missed cuts in Houston a week ago by potentially taking advantage of the slightly weaker field by producing strong finishes.
For Power especially, winning once in 2021 was an outstanding achievement, but to win twice would serve to elevate him onto a new level of those who have multiple wins on the PGA Tour. Already 89th in the world, there is a real sense that there is an invitation to Augusta in April with his name on it if he can continue his recent form.
It just goes to show how consistent the Waterford man has been in that last week’s missed cut was only his second since February, a run spanning 16 events. In that time he has racked up four top-10 finishes – including that win at the Barbasol Championship – and a further six finishes inside the top-22.
So it is fair to say that his result at Memorial Park was very much the exception rather than the rule. With top flight security for the next two years and with the carrot of higher profile starts next year in front of him, expect Power to really target this week for momentum to take into 2022.
On the other hand, McDowell is looking for that big week that really kicks his career back into life. The former US Open champion, now 42, has only had one top-10 finish since he won the Saudi International in February 2020 and has slid all the way down to 277th in the world rankings.
There have been green shoots though. That top-10 finish was fourth-placed at the Corales Puntacana Championship in March, while he flirted with another one in finishing 12th at the recent Butterfield Bermuda Championship, so there are signs that the game is still there.
The problem is McDowell has been too inconsistent, as evidenced by a -25.333 shots gained mark in his opening four events of the new season. While his driving accuracy is still elite – 68.07% ranks 20th on the PGA Tour – the stats don’t favour him beyond that, with his next best being 118th in GIR percentage.
Both will be looking to dethrone current champion Robert Streb, who arrives in Georgia boasting some form having recorded two top-10s in his last three starts, but positive performances from both would certainly be a nice early Christmas present for them to take into the new year.
English will be the favourite to dethrone him, the World No.12 the best-ranked player in the field, but it is worth noting the presence of Max Homa at Sea Island, the 30-year-old having already won the Fortinet Championship this season and having not missed a cut since June.
The three S’s – Smith, Simpson and Scott – will also be in the mix but, after a week where the unheralded Martin Trainer nearly emerged from nowhere to win his second PGA Tour event, this feels like another event where something similar could take place.
That will be music to the ears of Power and McDowell.
- Full scoring HERE