The 2021 calendar year on the PGA Tour will end with its final champion being a first-time winner.
Talor Gooch did what many this year have failed to do on the PGA Tour this year: hold onto a 54-hole lead. The man who turned 30 last Sunday went into this Sunday with a three-stroke advantage at the RSM Classic, and left with a three-stroke victory over Mackenzie Hughes.
It was never really in doubt on Sunday. Little-known Tyler McCumber went crazy earlier in the day and was briefly on 59 watch before settling for a 10-under 60, but at 15-under-par for the week, he was not a threat to Gooch, who started the final round at 16-under.
Two weeks ago at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, Gooch was in a good position to capture that first career Tour victory, but struggled from the runner-up position in the final round, shooting a 3-over 74 and dropping into a share of 11th.
This time? There seemed to be no scar tissue, as Gooch sprinted out of the gate with birdies on 2 and 4. He parred the next five holes to make the turn at 2-under, and at 18-under, he held a four-stroke advantage on Sebastian Munoz.
Gooch then made himself unreachable. He birdied 10, 11, 13, and 15, adding zero bogeys in the process. His closest competitor was Canada’s Hughes, the 2016 RSM Champion, who started the final round five strokes back of Gooch, but exploded down the stretch with four birdies over his final six holes to shoot a Sunday 8-under 62.
Gooch, meanwhile, provided no drama over the final three holes, carding three straight pars to finish the day with a 6-under 64 and a three-stroke victory over Hughes. Munoz played well down the stretch as well, but a 5-under 65 was not enough to catch Gooch. He finished solo-third, four strokes behind Gooch.
The Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club on Georgia’s Saint Simons Island was a phenomenal bounce-back for Gooch. He started the new season hot with a T4 at the Fortinet Championship, followed by three additional top-11 finishes. After his disappointment at the Mayakoba in Mexico, he finished solo-60th at last week’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open, shooting a 65 in the first round, but following it up with three poor rounds to tumble down the leaderboard.
The win, combined with his other good results on the season, sent him to the top of the FedExCup standings at the break. He started the week ranked 14th after finishing 64th a season ago.
2021 RSM Classic: Top 10
Pos-Player-Score (Final Rd)
1. Talor Gooch -22 (-6)
2. Mackenzie Hughes -19 (-8)
3. Sebastian Munoz -18 (-5)
4. Tyler McCumber -15 (-10)
4. Cameron Smith -15 (-6)
4. Tom Hoge -15 (-3)
4. Seamus Power -15 (-2)
8. Taylor Moore -14 (-4)
8. Webb Simpson -14 (-4)
10. Denny McCarthy -13 (-4)
10. Luke List -13 (-2)
12. Justin Rose -12 (-5)
16. Charles Howell III -11 (-4)
16. Zach Johnson -11 (-4)
37. Adam Scott -7 (-3)
37. Matt Kuchar -7 (-1)
57. Scottie Scheffler -3 (-2)
68. Davis Love III +1 (-3)
How Talor Gooch Won The RSM Classic
A hot start to the week, playing his front nine on the plantation course (the field played three rounds on the seaside course and one on the plantation) at 6-under before finishing with an 8-under 64. He took over the top place on the leaderboard with rounds of 65 and 67 respectively in rounds 2 and 3, and his hot start on Sunday prevented anyone in the field from catching up.
His 20 birdies for the week tied for ninth in the field, and he also added two eagles while carding just two bogeys and nothing worse. He ranked second for the week in strokes gained: approach-the-green and strokes gained: around-the-green, was third in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and fifth in greens in regulation, hitting 16 of 18 in the final round. On top of all that, his flatstick was a strength, as he finished T6 in strokes gained: putting.
His 22-under-par score for the week tied the tournament record set by Kevin Kisner in the 2015 season.
Gooch’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 298.2 yards (20th)
Fairways: 66.1%, 37/56 (99th)
Greens: 83.3%, 60/72 (5th)
Putts/GIR: 1.638 (13th)
Strokes Gained Total: 13.665 (1st)
Scores: 2 Eagles, 20 Birdies, 48 Pars, 2 Bogeys
What It Means For Gooch
Gooch was in great position to keep his card beyond this current season anyway, but now it is clinched, in addition to all of the next two seasons.
The first exemption is for the next event to occur: January’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. More notably, Gooch will get to play The Masters for the first time in April. He has played in four previous majors, with his best finish being a T33 at last July’s Open Championship.
Gooch specifically mentioned that his goal is to qualify for the 2022 Tour Championship, and this puts him in a tremendous position to do that. He reached the BMW Championship a year ago, the second leg of the three-week FedExCup Playoffs.
Last year’s RSM Champion, Robert Streb, did not make the Tour Championship, but Gooch already has four results this season better than the second-best result Streb did last year.
He went from 52nd in the world rankings to a new career-high of 33rd, an impressive finish to a calendar year where he started 81st.
Gooch’s 2022 Season
Cuts Made: 6
Wins: 1 (RSM Classic)
Top 10s: 3
Money: $2,293,294 (1st)
Points: 852 (1st)
OWGR (Before/After): 52/33
Sunday’s Stars at Sea Island
The 60 shot by Tyler McCumber, a 30-year-old University of Florida product, was more than a bit of a surprise considering that in his five previous starts this season, he had four missed cuts and a T62.
In fact, he finished the 2020-21 season with seven missed cuts in his final nine starts, so this was certainly some much-needed momentum to end the year.
McCumber started on the back-nine and really made his move when he hit the front, carding five consecutive birdies on holes 4-8 before a par on his final hole, where his 53ft putt for 59 rolled past the hole.
Matching Gooch’s 65 for the third-lowest round of Sunday was Australia’s Cameron Smith, who had seven birdies to just one bogey. He jumped eight spots from T12 to T4. Smith had eight top 10s last season and has finished T15 or better in all three of his starts in the current season.
Former world No. 1 Justin Rose has been quiet in the past year, but made plenty of noise on Sunday at Sea Island. The 41-year-old Brit shot a bogey-free 5-under 65 to rise eight spots up the final leaderboard, from T20 to T12.
Sunday Stumbles at the RSM Classic
Scott Stallings has been in the midst of a strong 2022 season, with a T5 and a T6 among his seven starts, but a poor final round at Sea Island prevented a third top 10. The 36-year-old failed to card a single birdie, shooting a 3-over 73 that dropped him from T5 to T29.
Also shooting a 73 and dropping even further was Patrick Rodgers, who had two 6s in his final four holes to fall 31 spots from T26 to T57. Rodgers opened the tournament with a 64, but shot 70 or worse in his following three rounds. He should be feeling optimistic about his current season though, as he has two top-10s in five starts, including a solo-fourth in Bermuda.
For the second consecutive week, former FedExCup Champion Bill Haas failed to take advantage of an excellent first round. This time, he shot an even-par 70 on Sunday to drop 12 spots from T35 to 47, a disappointing finish after opening his week with a 65.
“To finish the fall season off like I just did, it’s a dream come true.”
– Talor Gooch, RSM Classic Champion