The 10thRSM Classic was played last week at Sea Island Golf Club, and for the fifth time a player with modest professional credentials emerged with his first PGA Tour victory.
Tyler Duncan, a mostly obscure third year PGA Tour member, defeated Webb Simpson, the highest-ranked player in the field, on the second playoff hole to collect his first professional victory after a mostly undistinguished college career at Purdue.
The 30-year-old Duncan, a native of Indiana, had played one season on the LatinoAmerica Tour and three on the Korn Ferry Tour before moving up to the PGA Tour for the 2017-18 season. He retained his exempt status for the 2018-19 season, but had to return to the KF Finals a few months back to regain his playing privileges for 2019-20.
Duncan had done little in six previous starts this season, entering the tournament 151 in the FedExCup standings before scoring a career-changing victory Sunday in dramatic fashion.
When the final round began in chilly, windy conditions Sunday morning, Duncan was tied for fifth, four shots off the lead of former Georgia Bulldog Brendon Todd, who was shooting for his third consecutive victory.
Todd had surged into the lead with a 62 in perfect conditions Saturday, one day after Duncan posted the low score of the week, a 61 on the Seaside course to take the 36-hole lead by two shots.
But while the field was taking apart a defense-less Seaside layout, Duncan pulled off as scorecard Faldo, recording 18 pars in his third round to fall four behind Todd’s 54-hole lead at 18-under 194.
Duncan teed off Sunday two groups in front of the lead trio of Todd, Simpson and Sebastian Munoz, like Todd a winner already on the 2019-20 schedule.
On his first hole of the day, Duncan did something he had avoided each of the first three days of the tournament – make a bogey. He pulled his tee shot into the native area left of the fairway and was able to advance his second shot less than 30 yards.
That turned out to be Duncan’s only bogey of the week, and he gradually began to work his way back into contention when he hit his tee shot on the par-3 third within six feet for his first birdie of the day. He followed with a deft chip to within two feet at the par-5 seventh, and when he arrived at the back nine, he was three shots back of Simpson, who led playing partners Todd and Munoz by two.
Simpson quickly pulled even with Todd thanks to a pair of birdies set up by precise iron shots on holes 1 and 3. Todd fell out of a share of the lead after an errant approach at the fifth landed in the native area short and right of the green, leading to a double bogey he never recovered from.
Duncan missed from eight feet for birdie at the 10th, but hit his tee shot on the 200-yard 12thwithin four feet for a birdie that pulled him within two of Simpson’s lead.
When Duncan birdied 15 and Simpson bogeyed 14, Duncan found himself in a three-way tie for the lead with Simpson and Munoz. Duncan, who ranked 150thon tour this past season in driving distance with an average of 288 yards, unleashed a 307-yard drive on the 15thand reached the par 5 in two, narrowly missing his eagle attempt.
Simpson and Munoz also hit the green at 15 in two for birdies, and Simpson briefly regained the outright lead when he rolled in a 22-foot putt for birdie at 16. Needing a pair of birdies on the final two holes to pull even with the leader, Duncan hit another superb tee shot on the par 3 17th, needing less than seven feet for birdie, and rolled in a 25-footer for birdie on the 18thto post 19-under in the clubhouse.
A sand save par at the 17thkept Simpson tied at the top, and he needed a 6-foot comebacker for par at the 18thto force a playoff after a bold birdie bid. Munoz was unable to capitalize on a huge drive at the 16th, and did not give himself a birdie opportunity on 17 or 18 to finish one shot back in third at 18-under after a final round 68.
Todd, who blitzed the field with a final round 62 in Bermuda and held on to win in a Monday finish in Mexico three days before the RSM Classic began, finally hit a wall in the final round at Seaside after playing his 12 previous rounds in 68-under par. He shot 2-over 72 Sunday
Bogeys at 12 and 14 ended any hopes of a third straight victory, but Todd birdied 15 and 16 for a 72 to finish fourth at 16-under.
Simpson, who led after an opening 65 on Plantation and closed with a 67, lost in a playoff for the second time in the RSM Classic and finished just one shot out of a playoff last year. After both he and Duncan opened the playoff with pars at 18, Simpson drove in the left rough at 18on the second playoff hole and hit his second into the left greenside bunker. He gave himself a chance to save par with a quality bunker shot, but never got the chance as Duncan holed a 15-footer for the win.
Two days after his 61, Duncan matched the low round Sunday with a 65 to finish at 19-under 263. With his win, he moved up from 151 to 11 in the FedExCup standings and from 387 to 170 in the World Golf Rankings.
The victory was worth $1,188,000 for Duncan, who qualified for the 2020 Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters and PGA Championship.
Prior to Sunday, Duncan’s biggest win came in the Indiana State Amateur. After graduating from Purdue in r2012, he played the LatinoAmerica Tour in 2014 before spending the next three seasons on the Web.com Tour. He finished second once and third once in both 2015 and ’17, and after finishing just outside the top 25 on the money list in ’17, played well in the Finals series to earn his PGA Tour card for the 2017-18 season.
Duncan, who qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open, made his first start as a PGA Tour member in Napa, Calif., in 2017, four days after earning his tour card with a tie for 12thin the Web.com Tour Championship in Jacksonville. He led after 54 holes in his PGA Tour debut, but shot 74 in the final round and tied for fifth, four shots behind the winner.
He played well enough the rest of the season to finish inside the top 125 at 113, but lost his card after dropping to 166 this past season, with his only top-20 finish a tie for fifth in the Byron Nelson Classic. He quickly regained his stats in the KF Finals, tying for fourth in the Tour Championship in Evansville, but had not done much in his first six starts of the 2019-20 season coming into the RSM Classic 151 in points.
“You never know, this is a crazy game,” Duncan said after his victory Sunday. “It can go several different directions.”
RSM CLASSIC NOTES: Despite his disappointing finish Sunday, Todd closed out the 2019 portion of the 2019-20 schedule solidly in first in the FedExCup standings with 957 points. Munoz moved up from fifth to second with his third place finish and is 140 points behind Todd. Duncan advanced 140 spots to 11th, just ahead of Tiger Woods in 12th.
Harris English (14) and Charles Howell (27) finished the Fall inside the top 30 on the points list even though both players missed the cut at Sea Island GC. Vaughn Taylor andBrian Harman ended the Fall 31 and 32 respectively in the standings, with Taylor tying for 10thin the RSM Classic and Harman tying for 14th. Taylor finished at 13-under 269 with Harman next at 270. Harman eagled the 15thhole Sunday to get to 15-under for the tournament, but played his last three holes in 3-over.
Other top finishes by Georgia golfers included a tie for fifth at 15-under 267 by Henrik Norlander, who lost in a playoff in the tournament in 2016. Keith Mitchell and J.T Poston both tied for 14that 270 along with Harman. Three St. Siimons residents (Harman, Mitchell and Poston) posted top-15 finishes along with three ex-Bulldogs (Todd, Harman and Mitchell). Norlander and Taylor gave Augusta State a pair of top 10s.
One of the most impressive efforts of the tournament was a tie for 23rdby Davis Thompson, a junior on the current UGA golf team. Thompson got into the tournament thanks to a playoff loss in the Jones Cup, a top amateur event played at Ocean Forest on Sea Island. He was 2-under in each of his first three rounds before a final round 66. Thompson is the son of RSM Classic Tournament Director Todd Thompson, a captain on the Georgia golf team in the late 1980s.
Many of the most prominent golfers with Georgia ties missed the cut along with English and defending champion Howell. Chris Kirk, also a former RSM Classic champion, missed by one shot in his second start after returning from a self-imposed six month absence from the tour. Others who did not qualify for the final 36 holes included former champion Kevin Kisner, Matt Kuchar, Russell Henley, Harris Swafford and tournament host Davis Love.