Draws and Fades: TOUR rookies battle to cement their name in history at The RSM Classic
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Written by Justin Lemminn @PGATOUR
The curtain is set to close on both The RSM Classic and 2022-23 PGA TOUR season
When the final putt drops on Sunday at Sea Island Golf Club, that will conclude the inaugural FedExCup Fall with the TOUR switching back to a calendar-year schedule in 2024.
While the minds of some may already be looking ahead to The Sentry or Sony Open in Hawaii there are still a few golfers with their eyes on the trophy yet to be earned at The RSM Classic.
Saturday turned into a mad dash to the top of the leaderboard with scoring conditions ideal on a day that saw temperatures in the low- to mid-70s. Scoring conditions so ideal that the four golfers toward the top of the leaderboard averaged a 9-under score, highlighted by Mackenzie Hughes’ 10-under 60.
Mackenzie Hughes sends in fourth-straight birdie at The RSM Classic
PGA TOUR rookie, Ludvig Åberg, leads fellow PGA TOUR rookie, Eric Cole, by one stroke at 20 under heading into the final round on Sunday. In most instances, two rookies in the final pairing on a Sunday would be the storyline, but the idea that the two of them are battling for Rookie of the Year honors adds a little extra intrigue to this week’s final round. Winner of the 2016 edition, Hughes, is two behind Åberg at 18 under.
Rookie of the Year honors aside, there is still a tournament to be won, and I have a pretty good hunch as to what I think will happen based on how play unfolded today.
OUTRIGHT ODDS (BetMGM)
-145: Ludvig Åberg (-20, 1st)
+250: Eric Cole (-19, 2nd)
+700: Mackenzie Hughes (-18, 3rd)
+1600: Tyler Duncan (-17, 4th)
While Cole and Åberg are both considered PGA TOUR rookies, this is Cole’s 40th start on TOUR compared to being Åberg’s 16th. That kind of experience should be considered along with the fact that Cole turned pro in 2009 when Åberg was merely 10 years old and has over 100 starts between the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA TOUR combined.
Hughes lurks at 18 under. To add some flare to the already enticing storylines, Hughes won the event as a PGA TOUR rookie and now chases two rookies down himself.
Ludvig Åberg (-145)
Ludvig Åberg drains eagle putt at The RSM Classic
This decision goes against a pretty standard rule of mine…golf is too volatile and margins are too thin to take minus money on a golfer who only leads by one stroke going into Sunday. I’m willing to go against my rule, albeit a rookie eyeing his first TOUR win, in this instance because the way Åberg is scoring carries more value to me than that of Cole or Hughes. Åberg lapped the field on Saturday in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, gaining 5.53 strokes (Cole, 2.06; Hughes, 1.59). He carded a 9-under 61 while gaining just .07 strokes with the putter. An average day on the greens and Åberg very well could have carded an elusive 59 in Round 3. In most instances I would put poor putting performances as my main reason to avoid a golfer but in this instance Åberg gained 2.82 strokes putting on the same course Friday and I expect him to bounce back toward that number on Sunday rather than linger around the .07 in Round 3. All signs point toward Åberg besting Cole and Hughes and earning his maiden TOUR win.
Mackenzie Hughes (+700)
Short and sweet here, never make a bet you are not ok with losing. A +700 number on Hughes is too good to pass up given how the leaderboard looks at the moment. A two-time TOUR winner with his first victory being at this very tournament, only two strokes behind the lead with two rookies standing between him and the trophy, I will take +700 on any player with those factors backing him. For all the great putting Hughes had on Saturday, it was a missed 16-foot birdie putt at the 18th that kept him from carding a 59. That aside, Hughes gained five strokes with the putter today which was best in the field by 1.40 strokes. Call it a favorable odds play, cause that’s exactly what it is.
Eric Cole (+250)
As I alluded to above, I don’t want to discount Cole’s experience on TOUR or longevity playing professional golf, but there is a reason he has yet to win on the PGA TOUR or Korn Ferry Tour. There always seems to be someone just a little bit better, and I think we see that again at Sea Island. Not that Cole will never win on TOUR but going against an elite 24-year-old and Ryder Cup participant in Åberg and two-time PGA TOUR winner, Hughes, doesn’t give me too much comfort. Yes, he scored well today and matched Åberg’s 9-under 61 but how he did it is not sustainable. He putted the dots off the ball gaining 3.55 strokes on the green but on a Sunday where ball-striking and scrambling will be a must, I cannot find it within to put my name behind claiming Cole will win.