RSM Classic First Round Leader Predictions and Picks: Back a Hot Start From Chris Kirk
Here we go, then, our last First Round Leader article on the PGA Tour in 2021. Last week it looked for a long time that Wyndham Clark could land us our first winner as he was -5 thru 8 holes, with plenty of opportunities still to come, but it did not happen. The leading score after day one was indeed -5 in the end, so it felt like one that got away.
Still, we move on to this week, where two courses feature through the first two rounds, and I will break down what course we should target in this market and why.
RSM Classic Strategy
How do we go about spotting value in the First Round Leader markets?
Well, this tends to change week-to-week depending on weather and course conditions. Still, we tend to target early tee times when playing Stateside. That seems to give players an edge as they’re out in generally calm conditions, with the best greens and smaller crowds unless in a marquee group, giving them a chance to string together their round in peace.
There is an exception to the rule this week that needs to be taken into consideration due to the two-course rotation and their differences in par. The First Round Leader market is generally settled in relation to par, as opposed to Tournament Score, so while someone may shoot 64 on the par 70 Seaside Course (-6) and it shows up as the lowest round of the day on leaderboards, a 65 on the Par 72 Plantation Course would be -7 and your leader. Consider this in your approach.
Below are the last six years (since the two-course rotation was implemented) showing the lowest rounds by score, but also the lowest rounds in relation to par. The latter is what the First Round Leader market will be settled on. The names in bold show who would have been First Round Leader for betting purposes.
- 2020 – Camilo Villegas & Matt Wallace 64 (-6) at Seaside Course – Also the lowest to par that day
- 2019 – KH Lee & Cameron Tringale 64 (-6) at Seaside – Webb Simpson 65 at Plantation (-7)
- 2018 – Charles Howell III 64 (-8) at Plantation – Also lowest to par that day
- 2017 – Chris Kirk 63 (-9) at Plantation – Also lowest to par that day
- 2016 – Mackenzie Hughes 61 (-9) at Seaside – Also lowest to par that day
- 2015 – Jeff Overton/Tom Hoge/David Hearn 64 (-6) at Seaside – Kevin Kisner 65 (-7) at Plantation
So, what we can garner from this, is while the lowest rounds by number tend to come at the Par 70 Seaside Course, the First Round Leaders often come from the Plantation Course due to the extra scoring opportunities.
While this would suggest you should target those playing the Plantation Course on Thursday, Mackenzie Hughes showed what you could do to the Seaside Course, especially if conditions allow, and both leaders last year came from the Seaside Course as well. Given the rally Webb Simpson had to put in back in 2019 (was -8 for his last 13 holes), I would suggest it’s more balanced between the two courses now than it appears. With 64’s and better regularly coming from the Seaside Course and the Plantation playing noticeably tougher since its renovation, I would suggest having at least one runner from the Seaside Course, in case the weather allows a lower score. There is merit in favoring the Plantation course, but I wouldn’t get too caught up. If you like a player to go low for multiple reasons on day one, don’t ignore it because of the course they are on.
Who in this field started fast on Tour last season?
Here are the ten fastest starters in the field based on Round 1 Scoring Average in the 2020/21 PGA Tour season.
- Cameron Smith (1st overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 68.91) – Low Opening Round – 62 (RBC Heritage)
- Brian Harman (T5 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.37) – Low Opening Round – 65 (Shriners and Open Championship)
- Scottie Scheffler (T5 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.37) – Low Opening Round – 65 (Farmers Insurance Open and FedEx St Jude)
- Seamus Power (10th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.59) – Low Opening Round – 65 (Barbasol Championship)
- Louis Oosthuizen (T11 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.63) – Low Opening Round – 64 (Open Championship)
- Russell Henley (T11 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.63) – Low Opening Round – 62 (Wyndham Championship)
- Keegan Bradley (T13 overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.65) – Low Opening Round – 64 (Valspar Championship)
- Joaquin Niemann (18th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.69) – Low Opening Round – 62 (Sony Open)
- Chris Kirk (19th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.72) – Low Opening Round – 64 (Wyndham Championship)
- Doug Ghim (20th overall in 2020/21 – Scoring Average 69.77) – Low Opening Round – 64 (Bermuda Championship)
What score is required to lead after round 1?
This is, of course, a bit of a guess and subject to change, dependant on the course, but 63 is a good target once again this week. If we average out the leading round 1 scores on the PGA Tour from the 2020/21 season, over 45 individual events, we get an average leading round 1 score of 63.97.
It has been a real mixed bag of first-round scores that have led here, ranging anything from a nine-under 61 on the Seaside Course to a seven-under 65 at the Plantation, so putting a number on it is going to be tough this week. 63 at either course is a seriously good round, though, so once again, I will put that as the target, but I suspect an eight-under 64 on the Plantation course could get the job done. The 63 leaves chances for something to go seven-under at the Seaside Course, which is certainly attainable. Either way, the average score of 63.97 is likely to be enough at the Plantation, so it is a good target.
RSM Classic Favorites
The favorites in this market correlate with the favorites in the outright market. Still, they may provide better value if you think that either one of the favorites can start fast but fade away, or they go wire-to-wire, in which case you could double down with an outright and a first-round leader bet.
Scottie Scheffler (+1400)
Scottie Scheffler is a fast starter, that much has been evident in his career, and while he continues to disappoint in the win market, there’s no reason to doubt him in this one.
He’s been within two of the lead 11 times in his career after the first round, and while he started slow in Houston last week, a second-round 62 showed his scoring prowess once again.
I again think he will flatter to deceive when it comes to winning this event, but I wouldn’t rule out a fast start, as he looks to put last week in the rear-view quickly.
He finished 5th on debut here in 2019, with rounds of 70-66-63-68, so if he can start on the Plantation and take advantage of the extra scoring opportunities there, it could be interesting.
Webb Simpson (+1400)
Worth a second look, but not for me. Webb Simpson has been within two of the lead on forty(!!) occasions after day one, so he is certainly capable of getting his week off to a hot start. Twelve of those were leads or co-leads, one of which came in this event and two others coming at correlating events, the Honda Classic and Sony Open.
After a slow start at the CJ Cup in his last start, he closed with rounds of 66 and 65, and that’s good momentum to take into this event, even if a few weeks ago now.
Given his rich course history, it would not surprise me if he led after day one, but again I will look elsewhere.
Cameron Smith (+1800)
As highlighted last week, Smith loves to get his week going early, already posting three first-round leads so far in his career.
The opening 62 he shot to lead the Heritage earlier this year stands out as significant, and given the current form, which saw him post another top-15 last week in Houston, he’s easy to like. He did his best scoring after day one last week, and I don’t necessarily have him pegged for a really low opening round here, but more a consistently improving week.
As this is his event debut, I will chance it takes him until the weekend to go really low here.
Louis Oosthuizen (+1800)
Louis Oosthuizen has held 12 first-round leads/co-leads in his career and finished 4th here on his debut back in the day, so there’s every chance he starts fast also. He led after day one at both the Open Championship and U.S. Open in 2021, so he’s got previous this year, and he’s a hard player to bet against in any situation.
I don’t have any desire to bet him in this market, but equally, I couldn’t put anyone off.
Harris English (+2000)
Given his lack of current form, I won’t be rushing to the window to bet Harris English in any form, but if I could be tempted, it might be in this market. The reason is, I think he’s way too talented to stay in this form forever, and he could conjure up an incredible round in isolation, especially on resort-style courses.
A Georgia boy through and through English will enjoy being close to home if nothing else, and if I only have to rely on him having one good day, then I am not as concerned as I would be about an outright ticket.
He’s held five leads/co-leads in his career, three of which have come at correlating events. Twice he has led St Jude after round one, and he also led the way on Thursday at the Honda Classic last year.
If he can get over the fact the Tour robbed him of his old putter grip he famously loved to use, he may well come backfiring in a big way. Of course, he’s come back from way worse before.
RSM Classic First Round Leader Picks
I am going to take one more than normal here because I ultimately found it hard to whittle down, and I also wanted a couple on the Seaside Course while also respecting the obvious allure of the Plantation Course in this market.
Joel Dahmen (+3300)
Joel Dahmen hit over 82% of fairways and 68% of greens last week on a really tough course in Houston, so I hope he can carry that over onto a course where both will be easier. While his event form isn’t the best on paper, further investigation shows he can at least start fast here, and I will count on him carrying over that final round 65 from last week and parlaying it into another fast start here.
He’s posted opening rounds of 66-64-68-69-72 in this event, so while he’s never finished better than T37 at the end of the week, on two occasions, he’s started very solidly, and that 64 in 2017 was impressive.
There’s the obvious concern that he’s starting on the Seaside Course over the Plantation, and while that opening round 64 in 2017 came on the latter, he shot a second-round 61 at the Seaside Course 12 months ago.
As a result, I think a Thursday tee time at a course he’s lit up before is far from a death sentence.
Dahmen tees off the 10th tee at 11.00 am, with Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson.
Chris Kirk (+3500)
Chris Kirk absolutely loves Sea Island, and he reps RSM on his cap, so there are two positives already.
Joking aside, Kirk has been brilliant in this event over the years. It was the site of his first victory back in 2013 before it was a two-course rotation, and his win at Colonial was further evidence that an accurate test suits.
Kirk has held seven leads/co-leads in his career, and three of them have come at eye-catching tournaments. The first came at the OHL Classic (Mayakoba), which is short and coastal, another came in Hawaii (a correlating course), and the other, of course, came here in 2017 when he shot a nine-under 63 at the Plantation.
We know what sort of test Kirk likes, and he’s shown some good form of late that makes me think he can go well here. A 64 to open in Mexico was a welcome addition to that, and a similar score this week could get it done.
He shot a 64 on the Seaside Course in round three, the same week he led with that 63, and he shot 67-66 over the weekend last year, so I am happy to side with him like I am Dahmen on what people will suggest is the harder track to lead from.
Adam Long (+3300)
Adam Long has only held one lead in his career, and he shared it at the Ellie Mae Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour back in 2018, but he can earn his first solo one here this week.
He’s been within two of the lead on 18 occasions during his professional career, most recently last week when his opening-66 left him one adrift of five players, and that kind of repetition makes appeal.
Before that 66 last week came an opening 67 at the Memorial in June, an opening 67 here on the Plantation Course in 2020, which left him one shy of the lead, and also an opening 63 in Mayakoba in 2019 that left him one shot shy.
It is not often a golfer can go within one of the lead in four events over two years and not hold at least a co-lead, so it feels like he is due. Three-straight top-25’s and four top-29’s in total in his first six events to start the season, Long looks to be ready to contend again, and I’ll bet he can do that here off the back of a fast start.
Adam Long will tee off the #1 tee at 11:10 am with Brandt Snedeker and Richy Werenski.
Tom Hoge (+4000)
Tom Hoge has been considered by me in this market most weeks, and I am finally going to pull the trigger at a course that suits him down to the ground.
He’s come close to winning both The Greenbrier and the Sony Open, and he’s also flashed rounds at Colonial, which all fit into my correlative form.
In all, he’s finished within two shots of the leader twenty-three times on day one, and seven of those have been co-leads. While he’s never led outright on his own, he’s opened with a 62 at the Wyndham last year, another short course, the St Jude Classic in 2016, a correlating event, and again at the Wyndham with a 62 back in 2015.
Add to the efforts above his 64 here in 2015, at the Seaside Course, which he followed up with a closing round of 66 to finish 9th, and I think you’ve got the profile of someone who can go low here.
He will start his week at 10:50 am on the 10th tee at the Plantation Course with Talor Gooch and Tyler McCumber.
Scott Piercy (+4000)
Scott Piercy opened with a round of 64 not too long ago at the Wyndham Championship, and that was the 42nd time in his career he has been within two of the lead after day one.
Of those 42 fast starts, eight of them have resulted in leads/co-leads, and the most recent came at the 3M Open in 2019, so although it has been a while since he found himself in a position that would pay us out this week, he’s got a chance to feature.
Piercy held two first-round leads in 2015, two again in 2016, and one each in 2018 and 2019, so it feels like he’s fairly consistent in this market.
It feels like he’s overdue a first-round lead based on his record, and he led the field in SG Approach last week in Houston, so he may just be coming in hot. Piercy started the week with back-to-back 64’s to start the Sony in 2015 when finishing 2nd, and a fast start at the Heritage in 2019 resulted in him finishing T3 there, both of which are correlating events.
Last year was his first start in this event since the two-course rotation was introduced, but an 18th place finish was encouraging, especially with weekend rounds of 65-66. A hot putter should allow him to go low enough to contend in this market, as he looks to be returning to some decent form overall.
Being first out on the Plantation Course on a Thursday should be beneficial, and I expect him to take advantage.
Piercy tees off the 10th tee @ 9:30 am with Anirban Lahiri and Luke List
RSM Classic First Round Leader - Others Considered
Patton Kizzire (+5000)
Patton Kizzire loves the correlating events identified here, as a former winner of the Sony Open, where he shot two 64’s, and at the Mayakoba, where he opened with a 62. Add to that a 3rd place finish at Colonial, where he shot a second-round 65, and I already hooked.
He was 7th again at the Sony this year, where he posted two 64’s and a 65, and when you see he also finished T10 here last year, with three rounds of 66 or better, including an opening 65, and you have to take notice. He’s a Sea Island resident and an Alabama boy at heart, so he fits in nicely with the Southern ties required here.
The only drawback is his form. It’s been pretty dismal, barring a couple of rounds of 67 across two events, but his T29 at the Fortinet to start the season is his best effort. Two missed cuts and finishes of T64 and T56 don’t inspire confidence, especially with the absence of a low round, but maybe a home game is all he needs. He was the hardest to leave out.
Patton Kizzire will start at 9:50 am on the 10th tee of the Plantation Course, with Hudson Swafford and Sung Kang.
I’ll group these two together as I don’t have too much standout to say. Power hit his irons really well in round two last week before missing the cut, so we don’t know what the weekend could bring, but he’s got some good correlative form and is generally playing very well.
Patrick Rodgers is a fast starter but has never led after round 1, so it feels like he is due. He closed with a 62 here in 2018 before losing to Charles Howell III in a playoff, and he’s the type that can go low on any given day. I liked him outright, so happy to just stick with him there, in the hope that he builds into the week and saves his best ‘til last.