Sunday’s final round at the RSM Classic was either the final shot across the bow of the old guard before the PGA Tour goes on hiatus for six weeks, or the last gasp of the rookies and lurkers who have won an unprecedented six of seven tournaments since the opening of the new season last month in Napa. The RSM Classic, contested November 19-22 at the Sea Island Resort on Sea Island, Georgia, is the last of the former Fall Series events that are now the opening stanza of the wrap-around PGA Tour season, and today it became the sixth of seven tournaments contested since mid-October to be won by a first-timer.
Kevin Kisner, a 31-year-old from South Carolina who turned pro in 2006, emulated Sherman’s march across Georgia (ironic for a Southerner…) as he lay waste to the rest of the field, turning a three-shot lead after 54 holes into an unthreatened six-shot victory at the end of the final round. Opening with a 65 in the first round, Kisner came back with a round of 67 on Friday, but it was the pair of 64’s on the weekend that saw him into the winner’s circle for the first time.
One stroke back of 36-hole leader Kevin Chappell going into the weekend, Kisner bested Chappell by four strokes, 64 to 68, in a blustery third round, taking a three-stroke lead into the final round. He matched Saturday’s round under final-round pressure on Sunday, taking the heat off himself and putting it on his pursuers with a 5-under front nine.
“It was really nice to play the back nine with that much of a lead and that wind blowing and not making it that easy,” Kisner said in a post-round interview, “I just played conservative and tried to make a bunch of pars and hit the greens.”
He only made one birdie on the back nine, but it was enough – his pursuers, including last week’s champion at the Mayakoba Classic, Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, were firmly in his rear view mirror, and that’s where they stayed.
The secret to Kisner’s success was dart-throwing iron play and laser-guided putting. The South Carolinian hit 59 of 72 greens in regulation (tied for 9th for the field for the week), and once on the green he got even better, notching up a healthy 5.861 strokes gained putting. If there’s a formula for winning at golf, that’s it – hit greens, make putts.
The win in Georgia, combined with a second-place finish at the WGC HSBC Champions event on November 8 and finishes of T25 and T37 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and the CIMB Classic, respectively, puts Kisner atop the FedEx Cup standings as the Tour goes on hiatus for six weeks. Official play begins again on January 7, 2016 at the Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui, where the tournament winners from the 2015 calendar year (not the 2014-2015 season) are in the field.
Northern Califonia’s Kevin Chappell was among the casualties of Kisner’s unrelenting march across the Georgia low country. The Fresno native has three second-place finishes in PGA Tour play to his credit since 2008, and a total of twelve Top 10 finishes, but is still lacking a win. His play this week at Sea Island shows that he is capable scoring well for four rounds, and many, if not most, weeks on the PGA Tour his 16-under would have been good enough for a W. Chappell’s time will come, and no one should be surprised if he breaks through this season – but this week in Georgia it was just his bad luck to be outscored by a hot-running Kevin Kisner.