The Tour Championship!
There's $7 million dollars on the line at the CME Group Tour Championship this week for the season's Top 60 players. The winner will take home the largest first-place prize ever in LPGA history... $2 million. Tiburón Golf Club and specifically the Gold Course will host 2022's final event. Located in Naples, Florida this 36-hole facility designed by Greg Norman is brutal as much as it is beautiful.
- A Par 72 scorecard that reads 6,556 yards for the women.
- Seventeen of the eighteen holes have water. Greg, you missed one!
- A traditional setup with four Par 3's and 5's and ten Par 4's.
Only four miles from the Gulf of Mexico, this wetland layout can be challenging when the weather becomes part of the storyline. This week we expect a relatively quiet start. Temperatures will be in the mid-70s and the wind in the low teens. Heading into the weekend the plot thickens. Rain and increased wind are in the forecast. Closing this tournament with the added pressure of a historic purse and a little weather should provide an epic end to a truly historic season for the LPGA.
All but one of the past winners at this event are major champions. Charley Hull, the 2016 winner, hasn't won a major but has won multiple times on tour and played in the Solheim Cup. The Gold Course is target golf and when the pressure heightens around these alligator alley fairways, the cream always seems to rise to the top.
- The Top 60 on the season-long points qualify for the tournament. The list extended to the Top 63 due to withdrawals.
- The Top 10 in the Rolex Rankings are playing. Twenty of the Top 25 and thirty-nine of the Top 50 plan to tee it up alongside them.
- Four ladies in the field are competing for the Rolex Player of the Year honors (Lydia Ko, Minjee Lee, Brooke Henderson, and Atthaya Thitikul).
With Nelly's win last week and the jump to #1 in the world, we suddenly seem to have elevated this already intense event. Looking back at the last couple of leaderboards, we can quickly determine a couple of trends. I'll dig deeper into those in the outrights section, but for now, you need to understand the amount of pressure each woman will face this week. Unlike the guys, this is it for the season. We'll see you all again in late January. In a year where we have seen some sensational storylines play out, how will it all end?
Money makes a difference for these ladies. The purse increases these women have witnessed in 2022 are great, but this is new. With a $2 million first-place check, there are still eight women who can win the money title. There are currently six players with over two million in earnings. That doubles the previous record of three in a season. Twenty-two have earned over a million dollars which is five better than the previous best of seventeen. This may not sound like much, but over one hundred and twenty players will finish the season with over 100,000 dollars in the bank. The money is starting to add up for the LPGA and makes a big difference when closing time comes on Sunday.
Tiburón's Gold Course is a tough test. There's a different dogleg shape on every hole. Players are constantly being distracted by wetlands and waterways. With the breeze we expect out of the north, fourteen holes will play with a crosswind. Keeping it all together will be tough when you consider the winning score will probably be in the high teens. Aggressive play is rewarded here, but there's a fine line between making birdies and double bogeys.
The LPGA could not be in a better place to wrap up the 2022 campaign. All twenty-six winners from fourteen different countries are here. The average age of those winners is just over 26 years old. The Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year is a nineteen-year-old phenom from Thailand who won twice. The purses are up, and the pressure is real. All these 2022 storylines cannot possibly be wrapped up this week. As usual, we'll be left with more questions than answers except in the case of who will win. I'll get to that in a couple of short scrolls down. Settle in everyone, I expect a sensational close to an otherwise superb season.
Catching the money grab:
Pay attention to the channels (all times EST).
- Thursday 2:00 - 3:00 pm (NBC Sports app), 3:00 - 5:00 pm (Golf Channel)
- Friday 2:00 - 3:00 pm (NBC Sports app), 3:00 - 5:00 pm (Golf Channel)
- Saturday 2:00 - 5:00 pm (Peacock), 4:00 - 7:00 pm (Golf Channel taped)
- Sunday 1:00 - 4:00 pm (NBC)
- Complete details on LPGA.com.
The Golden Isles
I have more experience playing the two courses at Sea Island than any other courses on the 2022-23 PGA Tour wraparound schedule. In those trips around these retreat routings, I can relate the exact skill set that will be needed to win the RSM Classic. This event has only been around for a dozen years and only one of the courses has Shotlink data, so my perspective is extremely valuable when it comes to handicapping the final event of 2022.
The field for the RSM reflects the tedious nature of the tour. This is the forty-seventh tournament of the calendar year. A resort destination, the Golden Isles as they are called provide a picturesque close to an otherwise tumultuous campaign. The two courses at Sea Island Golf Club sit in stark contrast to one another not just in landscape, but exposure as well. The recently redesigned Davis Love III Plantation course stretches to 7,060 yards and a par of 72. Competitors will only play this course once in the rotation this week.
Located more inland on St. Simons Island, the course favors better scoring than its counterpart called Seaside. Much like its name, the second course extends out to the Georgia coast. The fancy links style Fazio design allows ample room to land the ball off the tee across a Par 70, 7,005-yard scorecard. It must as the wind can really challenge players across the low country wetlands. These are resort courses and even though this week is all about the best in the world, the other fifty-one weeks of average amateurs play here.
Speaking of the world's best, here's a quick field breakdown:
- We have seven players in the Top 50 OWGR. Twenty-six players are competing from the Top 100.
I'm not the only person who has played these courses. Sea Island is home to several PGA Tour residents and Amateur Championships. As a result, the field that competes here has more course knowledge than you think. More than a third of these guys have some local knowledge. This is key because when the conditions change this week and it gets cold and breezy, that mental Rolodex of past tournament experiences will be an invaluable asset. Take, for example, Greyson Sigg. The SEC standout holds the course record on Seaside; 58! I imagine he has some fond memories of that day he can call upon this week.
Speaking of weather conditions, it is going to get cold this week in Georgia. The high temperature expected on Thursday for round one is fifty-seven degrees. I'm here at SIGC and I can tell you from being outside the course will be cold. Even the protected Plantation Course will be cool. Fortunately, the field of 156 is split in half over two courses for the first two days so nobody is teeing off before 7:00 am. Following Thursday's start, the weather stays in the high 50's. Rain is expected on Saturday and Sunday. The wind predictions aren't insane as they can be around this place, but the guys will get tested.
A big part of going low at Seaside and Plantation is hitting greens in regulation and converting on these traditional low-country Bermudagrass grainy greens. Thankfully the cold weather will limit some of the grain movement, but overall local knowledge of these playing surfaces is critical. When we see two scorecards like these at Sea Island, we immediately think birdie fest. Plantation with a Par 72 and four Par 5's at 7,000 yards alongside a plethora of shorter Par 4's across both courses causes us to take a quick look at Birdie or Better percentages.
Just be careful, because when the elements appear, scoring goes quickly from birdie fest to bogey avoidance.
- The average winning score over the last five RSMs is twenty under par.
- For all twelve years, the number drops to eighteen under par.
- The tournament scoring record is twenty-two under (twice) and three of the twelve have been won at fourteen under par.
That's a significant difference due to the weather. One other note to consider, half of the RSMs have ended in a playoff. Something about the Seaside Par 70 over three rounds keeps scoring close. The cooler conditions this week should produce a mid to high-teens winner, but who will it be? Of course, we'll tackle that more in the outrights section, but it is worth mentioning the all-time average odds of the winners are +12000 (120/1). In the last five years, that number increases drastically to +19600 (196/1)!
With a limited amount of top OWGR players, cold conditions, and added amateur course experience, I'm very happy I know these two awesome layouts well. I know the specific skills needed to get it around here and that will produce a concise list of contenders. It's time to close the season with another win and get number 13. Two wins this fall have been nice, but three would make next week's turkey taste so much better.
Seeing Sea Island:
All on the Golf Channel (all times EST).
Thursday & Friday 12:00 - 3:00 pm
- ESPN+ featured Groups 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
- Saturday 1:00 - 4:00 pm
- Sunday 1:00 - 4:00 pm
- Complete details on PGATour.com
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I am number one
Jin Young Ko won the 2021 and successfully defended her 2020 title. During last year's event, she closed the tourney by hitting 63 greens in regulation. Overall, she hit the green 67 out of 72 times. Accuracy is a huge key at the Gold Course. Around every corner lies another double bogey. It's not hyperbole, as not only do seventeen of the eighteen holes have water, but thirteen of the fourteen driving holes move sideways off the tee.
With the weather that's predicted for this weekend, closing out on the biggest first-place prize in women's golf will be a challenge. Alongside Jin Young Ko's consistency, I look back to other recent winning performances for some straightforward clues. Past champions are good "Florida golf" players. They navigate the wind and water. Of course, when they do, the putter plays a part in their success. Lydia Ko, Jin Young Ko, and Cristie Kerr can all roll the rock.
Powerful players have excelled here too. Ariya Jutanugarn, Lexi Thompson, and Charley Hull have trophies from Tiburón as well. The combination of Florida's success, stellar short game, and a little power starts to narrow the list. Each of the ten Par 4's presents a different discernible test. Three of them are under 360 yards, four fall in the middle, and the other three are over 400 yards. Scoring on all three successfully takes some talent.
Two of the Par 5's are under 500 yards and reachable for many. In eight events, the average winning score is seventeen under par. Getting to the high teens will take some Par 5 birdies. Although power seems like the best option on these long holes, Lydia Ko is the LPGA leader in Par 5 scoring and her average drive this season was 255 yards off the tee. I guess being a Top 5 putter and approach player doesn't hurt either.
The Shark has surrounded much of this course with sand. Although much of it is aesthetic and out of play for these players, it will come into play at some point. Saving a par or two from the bunker will be beneficial and another consideration when it comes to our outright list.
- The same people continue to show up in Florida with a win. One of those ladies over the past two seasons is new world #1, Nelly Korda. After a scintillating 64 to close the Pelican last week, she looks poised to repeat just down the coast in Naples. Her last five starts at Tiburón: 5th, 19th, 3rd, 2nd, and 8th. Not outside the Top 20 in five years! She stormed past the field on Sunday last week and really looked like the healthy Nelly we saw in 2021. Number one on tour in driving, she'll have an unbelievable advantage on the Gold Course. Third in the field at Par 5 scoring there's plenty of firepower to get to twenty under par. If you are worried about the short odds, take a look at the placement bets. On a tour full of great talent, Nelly is next level. She'll double up to close the season.
- The strokes gained leader at Tiburón's Gold Course must be Sei Young Kim. In the last five years, she has a win, three Top 10s, and hasn't finished outside the Top 15. Her game is perfectly suited to this course as an excellent Par 5 scorer, bunker player, and GIR machine. Her success in Florida is proven as two of her eleven career wins have come in the Sunshine State. She's solid T2G, but the real key to her success comes around the green. With the challenges this course creates, Kim continues to contend because she's best suited to handle all the short game and scoring shots. By the way, she shot 65 on Sunday and looks to be peaking again for this start.
Outright winners - CME Group Tour Championship
Nelly Korda (+900)
Sei Young Kim (+2000)
Pick 3* (+3500)
Pick 4* (+4000)
*- member content
A Talor made win
Seaside and Plantation are resort courses. They allow amateurs to land the ball off the tee. Based on their length, PGA Tour players consistently use less than a driver to get around both. You can see it reflected in the average driving distance for the RSM (276) versus the PGA Tour average (283). Now accuracy ends up being more important, 71% at RSM against the tour average of 62%. The reason is that if you miss these generous fairways, you'll have a problem. Seaside is outlined in sand dunes, waterways, and low country wetlands.
Plantation hosts eleven penalty areas as well with seven of them on the back nine. Therefore players choose to be very pragmatic in their off-the-tee choices here. If you play positional from the teeing ground, approach play becomes a true differentiator. My shortlist this week starts and ends with great iron players. Talor Gooch picked up over six shots against the field last year with his iron game.
- Almost two-thirds of a player's approach shots this week on both courses will come from 100-175 yards.
- That's a sand wedge to a seven iron for the entire field.
Accuracy with an iron seems like a prerequisite to be on the PGA Tour. The fact is some professionals are better than others. I would even say the recent form isn't enough. Conditions will call for flighting the ball this week. That wind out of the north causes many of the holes on Seaside to play with a crosswind and no trees to protect you. In the Davis Love redesign of Plantation, he significantly altered the putting surfaces. They have defined sections that require the players to be more accurate.
Channeling your inner Luke List on approach is one thing, but to compete you'll also have to convert. Talor Gooch's first win last year also came with a great putting performance. He gained five shots against the field on the greens and his blueprint for 2021 carries through every successful run at Sea Island. Bermudagrass is a weed. It grows sideways and in these coastal conditions becomes even more hardy than usual. In the Golden Isles, the grain is a huge factor. It will move the ball inches on a flat putt. Success on this surface comes with experience. Our outrights are all capable of going low on the greens in the Low Country.
Seaside has twelve Par 4's, so I'm interested in Par 4 scoring this week. Although the Par 5's are very scoreable on Plantation, they only play there once. The two on Seaside are equally birdie-able (conditions permitting), but there are only two of them. I will not factor in much around the green aptitude this week. The simple reason is that if you're missing greens, you cannot keep up with the leaders. Bogey avoidance is important and a factor, but only to get up and down a couple of times per round.
Even if the conditions are moderate, players will need to average four to five shots under par per round to win. I walked both courses yesterday and they are in brilliant shape. Don't get too caught up in the Sea Island mafia hype. In twelve tournaments, only a couple of guys have hailed from the neighborhood. The fact is, if you are at home this week, you're hosting. Those extra little details attract attention away from your golf. I'd rather focus on excellent ball strikers who can pile on birdies much as Finau finished with last week. Speaking of which...
- Tom Hoge is the only iron player who can keep up with Tony Finau right now. When Finau withdrew yesterday, Hoge had to be the favorite for this "iron resort." Second in the field SG:APP and Proximity, he'll keep hitting it close all week. Ranked Top 20 in SG:Putting, Ball Striking, GIR's Gained, Bogey Avoidance, etc. We don't have to hope Hoge can flash with the flatstick as he's a Top 20 putter as well. If Hoge's hitting the ball this fall he's been great at it. His course history is solid too as he finished fourth here in 2021.
- I'm still strongly backing Justin Rose this season. Mayakoba was a mix of rust and that refined swing, but Houston showed us why I believe he's going to become a world-class player once again. Rose is ranked Top 5 in proximity this week. That's a trait that translates well when you also consider his history (12th last year) and Top 10 putting statistics. The guy lives in the Bahamas and plays grainy coastal Bermudagrass all the time. Only a handful of guys in the field have more wins on Bermuda. Watch that Top 10 from last week inspire a super Sunday on Seaside with a win.
Outright winners - RSM Classic
Tom Hoge (+2800)
Justin Rose (+4500)
Pick 3* (+5000)
Pick 4* (+10000)
*- member content
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