The first seven PGA Tour events at Sea Island Golf Club have not lacked for drama, with three playoffs, three tournaments decided by one shot and just one where there was little suspense during the final round.
Last year’s RSM Classic featured the most crowded leaderboard down the stretch, with five players finishing the tournament tied at 17-under. The playoff was halted after two holes by darkness late Sunday afternoon before coming to a quick conclusion the next morning.
The lone example of a Sunday finish that did not go down to the wire was Kevin Kisner’s 6-shot romp in 2015, making him the tournament’s fourth winner who resides in either Georgia or neighboring South Carolina.
The theme of having players who reside within driving distance of the Georgia coast began the first year the tournament was held in 2010 when Heath Slocum, who lives in Atlanta’s north Fulton suburbs, edged out Greenville, S.C., resident Bill Haas by one shot.
Slocum was close to the lead early in the tournament after opening with back-to-back scores of 66, and took the 54-hole lead after a third straight 66. Thanks to four birdies in a 5-hole stretch on the front nine the final day, Slocum led by as many as four shots. But David Toms, who was also a contender from the opening round, pulled even with Slocum before taking consecutive bogeys at 16t and 17, and wound up tying for third, two behind Slocum.
Playing in the group behind Toms, Slocum made birdie on 16, holing a 60-footer from just off the green, enabling him to win the tournament with a cautious bogey at 18. Several other players came to 18 with a chance to get to what turned out to be the winning score of 14-under 266, but faltered on the finishing hole.
The victory was the fourth on the PGA Tour for Slocum, but things haven’t gone very well for him since. The 2010 season was the last time he finished among the top 100 on the FedExCup points list, and he lost his PGA Tour status after 2015. He has made just 11 starts since then without making a cut, playing off past champion status.
Ben Crane’s come-from-behind victory in 2011 was the first of three remarkable final round comebacks over the next four years at Sea Island GC. Crane, who pulled off an equally improbable comeback for the first of his five PGA Tour wins at TPC Sugarloaf in metro Atlanta in 2003, began the final round five shots off the lead of Michael Thompson, and fell eight of the pace after Thompson recorded three straight birdies on the front nine.
But after beginning his round with seven straight pars, Crane scored birdies on eight of his last 11 holes, twice running off streaks of four consecutive birdies, the second from holes 14 to 17. Crane closed with a 63 for a 15-under score of 265, and defeated Webb Simpson in a playoff when Simpson missed a short par putt on 17, the second extra hole.
Simpson had a chance to overtake Crane in regulation, but parred the last seven holes for a 66. Thompson had an opportunity to make it a 3-way playoff, but bogeyed 18. Billy Horschel took the lead early in the final round, but made triple bogey at the par-4 fourth and wound up tied for 20th after a final round 75.
South Carolinian Tommy Gainey pulled off an even more unlikely comeback in 2012, shooting a course and tournament record 60 in the final round, erasing a 7-stroke deficit to co-leaders Davis Love and Jim Furyk after 54 holes.
Gained started fast Sunday with three birdies on his first five holes, turned in 4-under 31, and pulled into a tie for the lead with birdies at 11, 13 and 14. He went ahead for good when he holed a bunker shot for eagle on the par-5 15th, and rolled in a 20-footer for birdie on 16. He parred in from there for a 29 on the back nine and 60 for the day.
Love and Furyk were on the seventh hole when Gainey finished his spectacular round, and neither they nor Toms could catch the man known as “Two Gloves,” who first made his mark in golf as a winner on Golf Channel’s Big Break.
Gainey shot 69-67-68 the first three rounds, and his final round 60 evidently spooked the 16 players in the final eight groups, none of whom shot lower than 67. Toms, who ran off four birdies in a 5-hole stretch on the front nine, needed four birdies on his last four holes to tie Gainey, but parred 18 after birdies on 15, 16 and 17. He finished second with a final round 63, one shot behind Gainey’s winning total of 16-under 264.
Furyk finished third at 266 after a 69 and Love shot 71 with a double bogey at 16 to tie for fourth at 268. Augusta native Charles Howell, who shot 62 in the final round in 2010 to tie for sixth, was within three of Gainey’s lead early on the back nine, but three-putted three times over his final six holes and tied for seventh at 269.
Like Slocum, the last few years have not been kind to Gainey, whose only PGA Tour win came at Sea Island GC. Gainey lost his status after the 2014 season and has played in a limited number of events since.
After two years of dramatic comebacks, Chris Kirk scored a closely-contested victory in 2013, winning a head-to-head battle the final day with Briny Baird. The tournament was part of the FedExCup for the first time that year, serving as one of the early events on the wrap-around 2013-14 schedule instead of being part of the Fall series, which did not factor into the FedExCup standings.
Kirk, who grew up in the Atlanta suburb of Woodstock, lived on St. Simons Island after he completed his college career at Georgia in 2007, but returned to the Atlanta area shortly before the 2013 RSM Classic. He was still treated as a local by the tournament spectators, and was the crowd favorite in his duel with Baird, who began his college career at Georgia Tech before concluding it at Valdosta State.
Baird and Kirk were tied at 10-under 200 starting the final round, with Kirk shooting 66-66-68 the first three days and Baird following up an opening 63 with scores of 70-67. Baird led early Sunday before birdies at 7 and 9 pulled Kirk back into a tie. Kirk grabbed the lead with birdies at 11 and 12, but Baird responded with birdies at 13 and 14, regaining the lead when Kirk bogeyed the 14th.
It looked like Baird might put the tournament away when he hit the par-5 15th in two while Kirk found the marsh on the hole, but Baird three-putted and Kirk saved par with a clutch putt before pulling back into a tie with a birdie at 17.
Baird, who hasn’t played on the PGA Tour since May of 2014 due to a back injury, made his only bogey of the day at 18, costing him a chance at what would have been his first PGA Tour victory. Kirk shot 66 the final day to finish at 14-under 266, with Baird tying for second at 267 with Tim Clark, who shot a final round 62.
The victory was the second of four PGA Tour titles for Kirk, who was a member of the 2015 U.S. Presidents Cup team.
The 2014 RSM Classic resembled the tournaments of 2011 and ’12, with Robert Streb playing the comeback role that Crane and Gainey had previously starred in.
Streb was five shots off the lead at the start of the final round, and was still four back with five holes to play despite a 7-hole stretch on the front nine that included five birdies. Thanks to four consecutive birdies beginning at 14, Streb shot 63 to get into a playoff at 14-under 266 with Brendon de Jonge and Will Mackenzie. He won on the second extra hole when he hit his tee shot on the par-3 17th within four feet for his tenth birdie of the day. The victory is the only one on the PGA Tour for Streb, who is in his sixth season.
Mackenzie birdied 17 to get into the playoff, bit quickly exited with a bogey on 18, the first extra hole. De Jonge shot 65 after starting the final round with birdies on the first three holes, but parred his last eight after holing a 40-footer for birdie on 12. Mackenzie shared the 54-hole with Andrew Svoboda at 198, and shot 68 to tie for the lead after 72 holes. Svoboda closed with a 71 and tied for eighth.
Kirk was among a trio of former UGA golfers to tie for fourth at 268, joining Russell Henley and former teammate Kisner. Both Kirk and Henley had chances to make into the playoff, while Kisner closed fast with a 65.
Kisner, a member of Georgia’s 2005 NCAA Championship team along with Kirk, collected the first of his two PGA Tour wins in the 2015 RSM Classic in dominant fashion, rolling to a 6-shot victory.
After taking the first round lead with a 7-under 65 on Plantation, which was used for the first time as tournament co-host, Kisner followed with a 3-under 67 at Seaside to trail Kevin Chappell by one after 36 holes at 131. A 64 Saturday on Seaside put Kisner three ahead of Chappell after 54 holes, and he won by six over Chappell after another 64 Sunday.
Kisner dashed the hopes of anyone hoping to make a final round comeback when he shot 30 on the front nine Sunday to increase his lead to six, and maintained that margin the rest of the way. Kisner has emerged as one of the top players on the PGA Tour the last three years, earning a spot on the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team this year.
The 2016 RSM Classic ended with the third playoff in tournament history, this one involving five players, all of whom were part of the battle for the lead for almost the entire final round. Canadian rookie Mackenzie Hughes emerged as the winner after leading following each of the first three rounds.
Hughes slept on at least a share of the lead for four nights, as the playoff was halted after two holes Sunday afternoon due to darkness. Four of the five playoff participants parred the 18th hole twice before play was halted, and Hughes was the only one of the four to par the 17, the first hole played the next morning.
Horschel was the first player t drop out of the playoff when he missed a short par putt on the first extra hole. Hughes, Camilo Villegas, Blayne Barber and Henrik Norlander all made a pair of pars on 18 to extend the playoff to Monday morning, but all four missed the green Monday morning with their tee shots to 17.
Hughes holed his par putt from the fringe, and the three remaining players all missed from closer range, giving Hughes a surprise victory. He led from wire to wire, opening with a 61 on Seaside to lead Stewart Cink and St. Simons resident Jonathan Byrd by a shot. Hughes followed with a 67 on Plantation to lead by two after 36 and maintained a 1-shot advantage going to the final round, carding a 68 with birdies on three of his last six holes after making a triple bogey on 11.
Villegas and Horschel were both one back after 54 holes and shot 68 the final day to Hughes’ 69. Villegas got into the playoff with birdies at 16 and 17, while Horschel shot 3-under on the back nine with birdies at 14 and 15. Barber shot 66 on Sunday, matching Horschel’s birdies at 14 and 15, and Norlander got into the playoff with a birdie on the difficult 18th for a 65.
Hughes had at least s share of the lead all day, but could never pull away, with his three bogeys matching the total of the other four contenders.