ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. | It might have been a bit of a pedestrian season for a lot of established PGA Tour veterans but Bud Cauley of Jacksonville said 2016-17 was huge in one regard: he was pain-free after a series of injuries.
“It was nice to have a year that was normal,” Cauley said on Saturday after shooting 68 at the Sea Island Club Seaside Course to get into a tie for 13th at 9-under-par 203 entering the final round of the RSM Classic. “I was able to just go out and play, no injuries, no weird status to worry about … just pick out a schedule and play. It allowed me to evaluate my game and figure out how to get better.”
Cauley, who had a 63 in the second round, lost the better part of two seasons to shoulder surgery but in 2016-17 had a solid performance: five top-10s, 18 made cuts and a finish of 65th on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup points list. Cauley earned more than $1.5 million.
He’s started the new season well, with a tie for seventh at the Safeway Open.
Cauley played better than he scored in the third round, making two early birdies but then missing a series of makeable putts. He parred his last 13 holes and enters the final round with a streak of 47 bogey-free holes.
“My wedges weren’t quite as sharp as the day before,” he said. “I hit a lot of good putts that I thought were going to go in. The score could have been a few shots lower.”
Cauley said wedge play and putting will be his points of emphasis during the upcoming PGA Tour break.
“That will be the focus,” he said. “When I’m playing well, it seems to be the wedges and putting that keeps me from scoring.”
Home course doesn’t always yield home cooking
Zach Johnson has lived in St. Simons Island, Ga., since the year he won the Masters in 2007 but his record in the RSM Classic is spotty.
When he made the cut this week, it snapped a streak of three missed cuts in a row. His best finish has been a tie for 12th in 2010, the first year of the tournament.
Johnson’s 64 in the third round moved him into the top-10 at 10-under-par 202 as he posted his best 18-hole score at the tournament. Johnson birdied his first four holes, and five of his first six.
However, the two-time major champion has never assumed that living near Sea Island would equate to strong finishes in the RSM Classic.
“If anything, I’ve struggled on these greens over the years,” Johnson said. “I don’t read them well but I’m getting better. I’ve never putted great here and it doesn’t matter how good you hit it, if you can’t putt it won’t make a difference.”
Johnson frequently plays or practices at other area course such as Frederica or Ocean Forest — mainly because the Sea Island courses are frequently busy with resort play.
“I really don’t play here that often,” he said. “This is the resort side of Sea Island and I don’t play 18 holes here that much. But it’s my favorite golf course out here.”
Johnson played lights-out from tee-to-green in the third round. He missed only one fairway and three greens and was able to putt off the fringe on two of the greens he missed.
“I gave myself numerous opportunities,” he said. “It was a very solid day … kind of a boring day.”
SEC tournament helps
The SEC men’s golf tournament is held annually at the Seaside Course, which gives golfers from those schools some good memories on which to draw if they get to the PGA Tour and play in the RSM Classic.
Austin Cook, the 54-hole leader, is a great example. He played in four SEC tournaments while at Arkansas. His best finish was a tie for 22nd as a freshman in 2010 but he said the experience was invaluable.
“I think it really does help,” he said. “The more rounds, the more confident you are and comfortable you are on the golf course. It’s playing a little different this week than it does in May when the SECs are. It’s just a little cooler and the grass isn’t really the same. But I think being able to play in it as many times as I have just really helped me out.”
Kevin Streelman is the only player in the RSM Classic field without a bogey for 54 holes, and is 8-under 204.
But he’s had to work at it.
Streelman has missed nine greens, but has gotten up-and-down for par on all nine. He had four of the scrambling pars in the first round and hit 16 greens in the third round, which means he only had to make par from off the green twice.