2021 RSM Classic Odds, Picks, Preview: Branden Grace Headlines Sobel’s Betting Card
Andy Lyons/Getty Images. Pictured: Branden Grace
There are a few different ways we can handicap the RSM Classic this week.
The first involves analyzing strokes gained data at correlating venues, examining which players thrive on shorter, tighter, tree-lined tracks, while similarly investigating those who tend to putt best on Southeast-based Bermudagrass greens. You know, the usual stuff we look for each week.
The other is more of the ol’ eyeball test. Just identify the players who would appear even more comfortable off the course fishing for some small-mouth bass while adorned in sunglasses with croakies, sipping from a can pulled from a nearby cooler. Or those who look like they might’ve gone collar-up in the front row of an SEC football game not too long ago. And if they own any piece of clothing which reads, “Sea Island Mafia,” that’s a dead giveaway for a top-20 ticket here.
OK, so maybe that’s a gross exaggeration. In the past decade alone, we’ve had a native Oklahoman (Robert Streb, twice), a Pacific Northwester (Ben Crane) and even a Canadian (Mackenzie Hughes) vanquish the field on St. Simons Island, but the point remains: Those who look and feel like they’re playing a home game should be afforded a definitive advantage at this one.
The sleeping-in-his-own-bed variable doesn’t always equate to success, as these players have to deal with everything from a bombardment of ticket requests to taking the trash can out to the curb before leaving home for the day. None of these issues are terribly unbearable, but when they pile up, they can take the focus away from the task at hand.
At Sea Island, there might very well be strength in numbers, as this lavish-yet-laid-back locale for years has served as a haven for some of the game’s bigger talents.
While that suggests players of a certain profile should own an advantage, it doesn’t mean an outsider can’t triumph here – it happens more often than not, of course.
I’ll offer plenty of SEC-educated selections below, but my favorite outright doesn’t necessarily fit that profile – unless we start looking at all the numbers.
2021 RSM Classic Odds
Click here to see the full odds board as of Monday
|Charles Howell III||+6000|
|Dawie Van Der Walt||+30000|
|Davis Love III||+100000|
One player to win the tournament.
Branden Grace (+8000)
It’s been a year undoubtedly filled with emotion for a man who, like many South African players, doesn’t often display much emotion inside the ropes. In January, his father, Peter, passed away after a battle with COVID-19. Five weeks later, Grace won for the first time on the PGA TOUR in five years. Since then, he’s continued riding a heater, from a fourth-place finish at the Memorial to a T-7 at the U.S. Open to a share of runner-up honors at the Wyndham to another T-7 just a few weeks ago at the Zozo.
A former top-10 player and the only man to ever break 63 in a major championship round, Grace appears like he’s gradually returning to the form which netted such accolades. He’s only played the RSM once previously, but it was last year and a final-round 64 suggests he might’ve figured out a little something before the weekend concluded.
With a win at Harbour Town – as close of a correlation as we might find to these two tracks – this one should be up his alley, though it’s hardly a no-brainer. Full disclosure: A few of the other names you’ll read below were similarly vying for my favorite outright play this week, but with no real discerning evidence in any direction, I opted for the player with the most egregious odds next to his name.
More full disclosure: I made this pick before realizing that Grace tweeted over the weekend that he’s dealing with costochondritis, which is inflammation of cartilage that causes pain and tenderness in the breastbone or ribs. Fingers crossed he’s feeling better this week.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Webb Simpson (+1200)
I often write it here in the preview, but this idea has been a weekly staple in the fall, especially with some top-heavy odds boards: You might not want to “waste” or “burn” a world-class player in something less than a world-class field, but the truth is that the player’s win probability is never going to be greater than it is during one of these weeks.
Is Simpson capable of winning, say, the U.S. Open at The Country Club in eight months? Of course, but his win equity – as evidenced by the market – is decisively better in this type of field. Don’t be afraid to use him at Sea Island, where he finished second two years ago and third the year before that.
Kevin Kisner (+3500)
There’s nothing wrong with picking Kisner this week. In fact, he’s the prototypical course horse, with a win, a runner-up and five total top-10s in 10 starts at this event. Just know this much: If you bet him, you’ll be sharing your glory (or drowning your sorrows) with the masses this week.
If you play him in DFS, there’s hardly any leverage against predictably one of the highest-owned plays. And if you take him in OAD pools, you’ll essentially be treading water against your poolmates who make the same selection. (Don’t believe it? Know this: When I started writing this preview, he was 50/1. By the time I’d gotten halfway through it less than an hour later, he was 35/1 in the same book.) Again, there’s nothing wrong with picking him here.
All of the data suggests this is a smash play. Just know that if you do it and he wins, you’re going to have to puff your chest way out, just to out-puff everyone else.
Brian Harman (+8000) /Adam Hadwin (+10000)/Keith Mitchell (+13000)
A few weeks ago in this space, I espoused the theory (as offered by PGA TOUR pro Brendan Steele) that if you like a player, bet him and fail to cash, that doesn’t mean you should quickly move on. If anything, there’s a reason why our Spidey-senses start tingling when it comes to certain players, so maybe it was simply a case of the wrong timing, not the wrong player.
Harman, Hadwin and Mitchell have served as some of my favorite plays in the last few weeks, with varying degrees of success, but no big hits. I’ll stick with each of them, however, in multiple formats this week, armed with the knowledge that there was a reason I liked them in the first place and maybe that timing was just off a bit.
One player to finish top-five.
Chris Kirk (+800 for top-five)
As noted in the section on Grace, there were others I liked just as much, but not better than him – and so the ultimate deciding factor was the price. At 45/1 outright, Kirk is nearly half the price of Grace, which is the only thing that kept him from being my fave play, as I don’t like him nearly twice as much. That said, Kirk won this event back in 2014 and has two other top-10s.
Back when he finished in a share of second at the Sony Open, culminating a feel-good turnabout in his life with retention of his PGA TOUR playing privileges, I believed Kirk would win something this year.
Well, he’s got one final chance and it just happens to be at one of his favorite spots. Play him in all formats this week.
One player to finish top-10.
Denny McCarthy (+1000 for top-10)
Over the past few years, McCarthy has earned a reputation as one of the game’s best putters, especially on Bermuda surfaces. If this past Sunday was any indication, he’s ready to show off even more than usual with that short game.
In the final round of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open, McCarthy gained 3.04 strokes around the greens and 2.89 strokes on the greens – a combination which can turn some mediocre ball-striking into an impressive overall score. There are plenty of players about whom we often marvel at their iron play and wince at the short game.
McCarthy is the exact opposite; if we get just something a little above field average from tee to green, he has a great chance to contend this week.
One player to finish top-20.
Matthew NeSmith (+500 for top-20)
Speaking of players who fit the profile here, NeSmith might go a bit under the radar, but we shouldn’t overlook him. With results of 14th and 15th in his first two starts at this event, don’t be surprised to see his name on the leaderboard early in the week and potentially throughout the weekend.
Though he hasn’t played his best golf lately, this should be a perfect get-right spot for him to end the year with a little momentum.
One player to finish top-30.
Times have been tough for Kuch lately – well, as tough as they can be for a guy who’s banked more than $53 million in career earnings. Fresh off a season which concluded with five MCs in his last six starts, he’s started to find a little something here in the fall, with a very gradual upward trend of results, from 36th to 35th to 22nd.
That could suggest another top-30 in the makings here at a place he knows so well, one where he similarly hasn’t played his best golf, but has been able to churn out top-30s, to the tune of six in nine career starts.
One player to finish top-40.
Davis Riley (+190 for top-40) and Davis Thompson (+240 for top-40)
At a venue where Davis Love III serves as host, a pair of other young guys named Davis deserve some consideration.
Riley owns the better recent results, but Thompson knows these courses as well as anyone in the field. I’d play them conservatively for top-40s, but each could make for a nice low-owned, low-cost DFS play, as well.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
For a guy who seemingly plays his best golf at the majors, this might be a quixotic selection, considering the RSM is about as anti-major as they come, with the faint scent of BBQ wafting through a gentle breeze which can’t help but relax the soul.
There’s nothing pressure-cooker about this one, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also suit him, as increased ownership on the likes of Scottie Scheffler, Webb Simpson and Kevin Kisner could result in Oosty being a high-priced, high-ceiling, high-floor contrarian play at the top of your lineup.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
Prior to the Bermuda Championship a few weeks ago, I wrote that Sigg will be a popular play for me this year on specific tracks which suit his game. That was one of ‘em – and he (sort of) rewarded the confidence with a T-22 that week after being stuck on the wrong side of the deferential draw.
There are few courses on the schedule, though, which should suit his game like these two. He’s already gotten a couple of starts here under his belt and while a T-49 in 2018 and MC in 2020 shouldn’t get us too excited, they both came before he was a PGA TOUR member.
I’ll focus less on those results and more on the experience that he should’ve gained from them.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Adam Schenk (+10000 for FRL)
Editor’s Note: As of Tuesday morning, Adam Schenk has withdrawn from the RSM Classic.
A caveat to this category: Last year, the Plantation course played to a Thursday/Friday scoring average of 71.33, while the Seaside course yielded a mere 69.28, more than two full strokes easier, which makes sense considering the Plantation is a par-72 and the Seaside is a par-70. I’m writing this preview before tee times have been released, so be advised that if you find a book which pools all players together, rather than separates the field, there’s a massive edge to picking those on the Seaside, as scores will be graded on overall total strokes, not the number in relation to par.
In his last 11 opening rounds, Schenk has posted 68 or better on six occasions. He’s a player I like here for the full week, but one I like even better in the opening round, especially if he winds up on the easier of the two tracks.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Corey Conners (+2200)
That number is a tough one to chase, considering Conners’ victory odometer remains stuck at 1. I do think that’s going to change soon, but for now I’ll revert to the H2H wagering strategy of taking players with a high floor – and Conners’ floor is as high as anyone’s, with top-40 finishes in each of his last eight starts, including five in the top-20.
He could potentially hit that ceiling, but instead of beating the entire field, I’ll play him in a handful of matchups, where he only needs to beat the player he’s matched up against.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Harris English (+2500)
On the surface, this feels like a terrible fade, considering it’s a tremendous number for a guy who’s the second-highest ranked player in this field and should fit that SEC profile discussed earlier. That said, English’s lone top-10 in nine starts at this event came last year, meaning it was perhaps less about a course fit and more a precursor to the stellar season he was about to enjoy. Lately, he hasn’t been so stellar, WDing in his most recent start, MCing in the one before that and failing to see a leaderboard since blowing the WGC in Memphis back in August.
I expect him to be a fairly popular play this week, but there are too many negative variables for me to back him in this situation.
My favorite non-PGA Tour play of the week.
Tommy Fleetwood to win DP World Tour Championship (+2000)
It’s about time. While a Fleetwood victory at the European Tour’s season finale — its last event before officially becoming the DP World Tour — wouldn’t quite offer the fulfilling relief of Tony Finau’s win in the FedEx Cup playoffs, it wouldn’t be too far off. It’s been over two years since Fleetwood’s last title and though the ensuing results have left an amalgam of hope and disappointment, the main storyline here is that the former top-10 player has dropped to 39th in the world ranking.
But in recent weeks and months, hope has superseded disappointment, with five finishes of 13th-or-better in his last six starts. Returning to Dubai, the scene of some of his best performances and a city for which he’s professed his love, should offer good vibes this week. Two years ago, he finished runner-up behind only Jon Rahm; last year, amidst that aforementioned disappointment, he was T-10.
If there’s one reason for pessimism this week, it’s that number next to his name, as 20/1 doesn’t exactly scream value for a player who hasn’t been piling up wins, though I suspect shopping around could uncover a more palatable price. Even so, all of those other trends are in his favor and he’s certainly worth an outright ticket.
If you’d rather dip a bit further down the board, Victor Perez (+5500) has been playing nicely as of late, while Thomas Detry (+7000) seems destined to claim that first title very soon.
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