A Sterling Event On It’s 25th Anniversary
By Jim McNaney
At the risk of saying “we told you so,” we TOLD you so!
The Silver Anniversary edition of the 3M Championship, held at the TPC Twin Cities lived up to the hype. In previous editions of this magazine, we told you that it would come down to the wire. We advised you not to leave early and that the 18th hole would prove pivotal in the outcome of the tournament.
Earlier editions mentioned players to watch, including Bernhard Langer, Kenny Perry and Kevin Sutherland. We also noted that the scoring would be some of the best on the PGA TOUR Champions all season.
The 2017 3M did not disappoint.
Off To A Hot Start
Heavy rains and cool conditions cancelled Thursday’s Pro-Am prior to the tournament. Friday was another story all together. Sunny skies and calm winds made the Blaine track gettable. Two-time champion Kenny Perry ended the day in a familiar spot… the lead.
“It’s always in great shape… great greens,” Perry said when asked why he always seems to play so well at this event.
His first round 65 (-7) put him tied with Mike Goodes and a shot in front of a host of players including Scott Verplank, Marco Dawson, Jay Haas and Gene Sauers (the latter will make his presence felt on much grander scale later in the weekend.) The leaderboard was a crowded place with 27 players carding 69 or better on the day.
Included in that group was local favorite Tom Lehman after firing a first round 69, four off the pace. His score could have been much better if not for a double bogie on the Par 3 fourth. Lehman quickly rebounded with four consecutive birdies to get back in the chase.
Newcomer and Wisconsin native Steve Stricker also carded a first round 69. His one lone bogie was offset by four birdies in the last 12 holes. The current Presidents Cup Captain enjoyed his first experience at the 3M, even if he didn’t come away with the trophy.
Day two always provides fun and fireworks. This year was no exception. Returning in 2017 was the Greats of Golf Challenge where Minnesota fans are treated to an exhibition match contested by some of the greatest to ever play this game. Jack Nicklaus again was the main attraction; partnering again with his good friends Lee Trevino and Gary Player. The LPGA team was fronted, as usual, by Nancy Lopez. Pat Bradley made her annual appearance as well. Noticeably absent was Annika Sorenstam. While her absence was certainly felt it was for good merit as she prepared for her upcoming role as European Captain for the Solheim Cup just two short weeks after the 3M. Replacing Sorenstam was Michelle McGann. Known for her stylish hats and broad smile, McGann quickly became a crowd favorite and she readily embraced the Minnesota crowd.
“I loved it, what an experience to be with all these legends. I grew up watching everybody. Jack is a neighbor and a friend. To be partners with Nancy and Pat, it’s just been fabulous,” McGann said of her day.
About the only thing that could have put a damper on her day was the birdies by Team Nicklaus at the last to edge the LPGA Team by one.
“If you are going to lose to anyone, it should be them,” said McGann.
Not to be outshadowed was the play in the main event. Signs that big things were to come appeared in an early day 64 by Stricker’s longtime friend and fellow Wisconsinite Jerry Kelly. Another day of soft winds and soft greens made the TPC course defenseless. Despite Kelly’s great round, he knew there was much more out there.
“I started seeing a lot of putts go in, which hasn’t happened in a while,” said Kelly about his day. As for what he expected for the rest of the day, “There’s no wind, it’s soft and the greens are perfect. It’s there for the taking today.”
Kelly’s comments proved prophetic as Scott Dunlap proceeded to make birdie after birdie on route to a 9 under 63. Dunlop was not alone in going low on Saturday as a record was set for a single rounds scoring on the Tour of 67.883. As good as Dunlap’s round was, there was one better.
Tour veteran and noted “grinder” Paul Goydos came within whiskers of the magical 59. While settling for a 60, Goydos put himself in position to make a run at the title on Sunday.
The perfect playing conditions of the first two rounds gave way to more humid and heavy air. The possible storms forecasted for most of the day skirted the grounds for most of the day, but the winds gave the par 72 more teeth. Even with the difficult winds, many players got off to fast starts. Most notably was past champion Bernhard Langer. It seems like it’s not Sunday at the 3M without Langer climbing the leaderboard.
Six birdies in the first 7 holes made it look for a minute like Bernhard would come all the way back. The enthusiasm for the day was short lived however as a double bogie on 9 followed by a bogie on 10 ended his chances for a win.
In fact there were a host of contenders vying for the win. Late in the afternoon, after multiple ties and lead changes there were 12 players within three shots of the lead on the back nine. Then the rains that had been predicted finally halted play. After slightly more than an hour delay, play resumed with three players, Goydos, Sauers and Sutherland with legitimate chances for the win.
18 For The Win
As has been mentioned… it all comes down to 18; only this time once would not be enough. With Goydos and Sauers both predictably birdieing 18 and finishing at 20 under, they headed back to the 18th tee to settle the score. When Sauers approach shot came up short and in the water in the first payoff hole, all that was needed was a tap in birdie by Goydos.
After 25 years, one thing is for certain, nothing is ever for certain at the 3M until the very end. In 2017, not even then was it decided. And after 25 years the other thing for certain is that, year after year, the PGA TOUR Champions visit to the Twin Cities is a sterling stamp on summer.