If you want to know how badly somebody wanted a win, look at what they had to overcome to get there. In the case of Tyler Duncan, who notched career PGA Tour victory No. 1 at the RSM Classic on Sunday, what he overcame was significant.
In the Tour finale of the 2019 calendar year, the 30-year-old Purdue product had to chase down the hottest golfer on Tour, recently unconscious Brendon Todd, who won his previous two starts and held a two-stroke 54-hole advantage at the host course, Sea Island Golf Club, on Saint Simons Island, Georgia.
Duncan then had to birdie three of his final four holes at the Seaside course, to force a playoff with the highest-ranked player in the field, world No. 11 and former U.S. Open and PLAYERS Champion Webb Simpson. If Duncan was intimidated by Simpson in that playoff, he did not show it, as the Purdue product matched Simpson on the first playoff hole before nailing a 12-foot birdie on the second to wrap up the championship.
In the cold (for the region) and windy conditions that led to considerably higher scoring on the final day, compared to the first three rounds, Todd surprisingly stumbled with an early double-bogey and could not get himself back in gear.
For a while on the back nine, the tournament broke out into something of a duel between Simpson and recent Tour winner Sebastian Munoz, but Duncan asserted himself into the mix with that late tear, which he capped off with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to shoot a field co-low 5-under 65.
After Simpson later was unable to birdie the 72nd hole himself, which would have precluded a playoff, and Munoz was unable to birdie that same hole to reach extras, the two-man playoff was on.
This was Duncan’s 68th career PGA Tour start, with his previous best result being a pair of T5s, the first coming at the 2017 Safeway Open, his first professional start. A year ago, he had just one top 10 in 29 starts, a big part of the reason he finished 163rd in the final FedExCup standings, and had to perform well at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in August to get his Tour card for the 2019-20 season. In six starts in the new season coming into the week, a T18 in Bermuda was Duncan’s only result of better than T48.
Final Scores: Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Tyler Duncan -19 (-5)
2. Webb Simpson -19 (-3)
3. Sebastian Munoz -18 (-2)
4. Brendon Todd -16 (+2)
5. Henrik Norlander -15 (-2)
5. Scottie Scheffler -15 (-2)
5. Kyoung-Hoon Lee -15 (-1)
8. Denny McCarthy -14 (-3)
8. D. J. Trahan -14 (+1)
10. Will Gordon -13 (-4)
10. Brian Stuard -13 (-3)
10. Vaughn Taylor -13 (-1)
10. Alex Noren -13 (-1)
14. Brian Harman -12
20. Russell Knox -11
23. Jim Furyk -10
30. Kyle Stanley -9
35. Dylan Frittelli -8
35. Bill Haas -8
43. Stewart Cink -7
43. Luke Donald -7
53. Maverick McNealy -5
53. Rory Sabbatini -5
61. Ben Crane -4
61. Zach Johnson -4
68. Adam Hadwin -2
68. Patton Kizzire -2
How Tyler Duncan Won the RSM Classic
It could be argued that Duncan largely won the RSM Classic on Friday. He started the tournament off in excellent fashion, shooting a bogey-free 5-under 65 on Thursday at the Plantation Course (the event feature one round on the Plantation and three on Seaside), but he was a different level of “on” when he tore up Seaside on Friday to the tune of a field week-low 9-under 61 to nab the 36-hole advantage.
Duncan backed up a little on Saturday on Seaside. After seven birdies and an eagle on Friday, his Saturday comprised 18 pars, which was good enough to keep him in contention, but had him four back of Todd going into the final round. Fortunately for Duncan, he found his best form again on Sunday.
Duncan’s bogey on the first hole in round 4 was his only for the entire week, which kept him out front despite finishing a pedestrian T21 for the week in birdies.
A shorter hitter, which can probably be at least somewhat attributed to his diminutive size, Duncan’s accuracy made his lack of distance a non-factor. He finished T4 in greens in regulation, sixth in driving accuracy, third in strokes gained: approach-the-green, and second in strokes gained: tee-to-green.
Duncan’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 280.9 yards (38th)
Fairways: 50/56, 89.3% (6th)
Greens: 60/72, 83.3% (4th)
Putts/GIR: 102/1.700 (13th)
Scoring: 1 Eagle, 18 Birdies (21st), 52 Pars, 1 Bogey (1st)
What It Means For Tyler Duncan
Duncan’s breakthrough victory comes with all the usual Tour winner perks: the paycheck of his life, a Tour card for the rest of this season and the following two, and invites into a number of elite events, including The Masters and the PGA Championship. Duncan’s prior two major championship starts were both in the U.S. Open: he missed the cut in the first and finished T56 (+17) in the second.
With the RSM victory, Duncan rises from No. 387 to a career-best No. 170 in the world rankings. He also jumps to 11th in the current FedExCup standings, giving him an excellent chance at a deep playoff run.
Duncan’s 2019-20 PGA Tour Season
Cuts Made: 4
Wins: 2 (RSM)
Addtl Top 10s: 0
Money: $1,259,787 (14th)
World Rank Before/After: 387/170
The only player in the Sunday field to match Duncan’s 5-under 65 was a man who had also figured it out at the beginning. Cameron Tringale was the first-round co-leader after opening with a 64, and with six Sunday birdies, he matched that field-low feat again in the final round.
Unfortunately for Tringale, a pair of 1-over 71s in the two middle rounds kept him from becoming the latest player on Tour to notch career victory No. 1, but his tremendous Sunday efforts propelled him 38 spots up the final leaderboard, into a share of 20th place. Tringale has made the cut in all six events he has entered in the new season, with three results inside the top 20.
Despite being a popular, kind-hearted 49-year-old man, Jim Furyk is likely to see his name dragged through the mud in the near future. The next big event involving PGA Tour players will be next month’s President’s Cup in Australia, and regardless of how well the crew of American captain Tiger Woods does against the opposing International team, there will no doubt be many references to the last big-scale team-play event, the 2018 Ryder Cup, where the Furyk-led American squad was an unequivocal disaster.
Fortunately, the 17-time PGA Tour winner will go into the winter break in hot form. Off the strength of five birdies, Furyk had one of the best rounds in the Sunday field, a 4-under 66 that rocketed him 35 spots on the leaderboard, allowing him to finish T23. Furyk shot all four rounds in the 60s, something Duncan did not even do.
A 4-under 66 by Will Gordon was more profitable than the one shot by Furyk. A relatively anonymous 23-year-old who has spent the majority of his young professional career on Canada’s MacKenzie Tour, Gordon holed out from 71 yards on the par-4 16th hole to shoot his 66 and finish T10. It was just Gordon’s fourth career PGA Tour start, and his previous best result was a T31 at last year’s Barracuda Classic.
The surprise bad Sunday round at Sea Island unquestionably came from Brendon Todd, who had looked absolutely unstoppable as of late. A Tour champion in 2014, Todd nearly bottomed out of the sport entirely after an exceptionally bad case of the yips obliterated his results, but the 34-year-old admirably re-acquired his 2019 Tour card after a strong performance in August’s Korn Ferry Tour Finals. He began his 2019-20 PGA Tour campaign with five straight missed cuts, but after a T28 at the Houston Open in mid-October, Todd went on to win his next two events, and then threatened to make it three-in-a-row with his performance at the RSM Classic.
After a pair of 66s to open things up at Sea Island, a third-round 8-under 62 gave Todd a two-stroke 54-hole lead. However, something surprising happened on Sunday: Todd become mortal again. Todd was effectively removed from contention after playing his first 14 Sunday holes in 4-over, carding two bogeys, a double, and no birdies. Back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 was mostly cosmetic as Todd finishing with a 2-over 72, ten strokes worse than his Saturday round, and finished in solo-fourth.
It is difficult to be disappointed with a WIN-WIN-4 stretch to close the calendar year, especially given the depths Todd sunk to, but that Sunday round still had to sting. Todd did still tie for the field lead for the week in driving accuracy, missing just three fairways in 56 attempts (2 of those on Sunday).
A player who achieved God status as an amateur, but whose professional career has fallen well short of expectations aside from two historically great rounds at Pebble Beach in 2009, 38-year-old Ricky Barnes really, really could have used a good round on Sunday.
Coming off an awful season, and a difficult start to this one, Barnes was in a share of fifth place going into the final round at Sea Island, just four strokes back of Todd. However, the University of Arizona product cancelled out his four Sunday birdies with four bogeys and an early triple to shoot a 3-over 73 and drop into a share of 20th.
Barnes has made 304 PGA Tour starts in his career, but while he did manage to snag the U.S. Open 36-hole record at the 2009 event, he is still looking for career victory No. 1 A year ago, he
made just two of 11 cuts on the PGA Tour, with nothing better than a T45, while performing only marginally better on the Korn Ferry Tour.
There was a lot of excitement surrounding Patton Kizzire on Sunday, a man who asserted himself as a bonafide PGA Tour threat when he won two early tournaments in the 2017-18 season. The 6’5” 33-year-old Kizzire aced the par-3 6th hole and added two other birdies in a short span. So, why is he a “stumbler” and not a “star”?
The rest of his round. Kizzire also had five bogeys, a double, and a triple as part of a 5-over 75 that dropped him into a final share of 68th place. With the Tour embarking on its annual winter break, it remains to be seen how Kizzire, a Tuscaloosa native and Auburn University alum (how is that even possible?) will be spending next weekend.
“I had played it twice already, and I knew where the wind was, we knew what the numbers were playing, so I just needed to hit a few quality shots and execute, and I was able to do that.”
– Tyler Duncan