|3M Championship Recap - Not Your Average Joe|
|Lee Trevino helps Jack Nicklaus get his game back on the range at TPC Twin Cities Photo Courtesy Adam Schupak.|
|Joe Durant 2016 3M Championship Winner|
By Jim McNaneyTo match the excitement of the previous few years, the 2016 3M Championship needed to produce some real fireworks. Given the new and exciting players in this year's field like John Daly and Miguel Angel Jimenez, expectations were high that this year's offering would indeed produce those dramatic moments.
When it was all over, however, it would be substance over style, steady over flashy as a relative journeyman would outlast the more marquee names in a playoff on Sunday.
Day One Saw Some New Names As Familiar Ones Lurked Close Behind
The first round saw excellent weather with highs in the 70's and light winds. Rains earlier in the week lead many to speculate that low rounds would be needed each day. In his pre-tournament comments, two-time defending champion Kenny Perry said, "With this rain now, there are going to be some low scores."
His words turned out to be prophetic as 31 players recorded opening rounds in the 60's, led by Monday qualifier Glen Day with a 7 under 65. Day matched his previous career low round on the PGA Tour Champions shot earlier this year at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic in March.
Day held the lead by one over Rod Spittle, Jeff Maggert and Colin Montgomerie. Montgomerie lead all players in the field with nine birdies on the day. Even with some relatively new names atop the leaderboard on day 1, more familiar, and potentially dangerous names, were not far behind.
While Day was the 4th consecutive solo leader after day 1 this event has seen, he was not really alone. Eighteen players log jammed behind Day and the others within 3 shots of the lead.
Nine players finished round one sitting just 2 strokes back including last year's runner up Kevin Sutherland and first timer Jimenez, as was perennial contender and former Champion Bernhard Langer. Langer could make a career out of playing just the 3M. Making his 8th appearance, Langer has 5 top 10 finishes with 2 victories and has recorded almost a million dollars in prize earnings at this event.
Seven more players including former major winners Mark Brooks and Mark O'Meara were three back, carding opening round 68's. One of those players was the remarkable 68-year-old Larry Nelson. Marking the third time in his career Nelson has matched his age, he bettered his age by one in the second round of last year's event shooting 66 at age 67.
Fan favorite and 3M debutant John Daly opened with an even par 72. His tee to green play was above average on a first time course but putting failed him. His frustration with the short stick was evident with him breaking, over his knee, not only one but two putters and tossing them in the woods. He finished Sunday putting with his wedge the final 6 holes. Local favorites Tom Lehman and John Harris got off to slow starts shooting 73 and 76 respectively. One player with local ties, Rocco Mediate, opened with a 3 under 69 and looked to stay close to the leaders.
With that many players in the hunt, day two looked to be a shootout.
Day Two Brings More Great Scores...And The Greats Of Golf
The Second round at the 3M Championship not only brings out great golf by the players, but also means the annual tradition of the Post-It Greats of Golf Challenge takes place. An exhibition match with a scramble format, the Greats pits teams of legends like Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino against other former major winners like Fuzzy Zoeller and Hale Irwin as well as LPGA legends like Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley.
As was the case in the previous 12 years, low scores and lots of smiles were the order of the day. While this match is never over until it's over, this year's event was slightly less dramatic than the final hole shoot-out last year that produced a tie.
It seems appropriate that the team known as "Team Ryder Cup" featuring Andy North, Dave Stockton, Tom Weiskopf and captained by Tony Jacklin finished the day at the top of the leader board given the Ryder Cup will be contested here in Minnesota in late September this year. Team Ryder Cup finished with a score of 17-under par 55.
Team "Greatest Team Ever" consisted of captain Jerry Pate, David Graham, Lee Trevino and the one and only Jack Nicklaus. The Post-It Greats of Golf one of only a handful of times each year Nicklaus tees it up in competition but once again he showed only a little rust as he and his teammates delighted the crowd finishing second with a -15-under 57.
Perhaps the best battle came from the teams of "Team Major Fun" and "Team LPGA" trying to make sure their team was not last. Major Fun was captained by Bill Rogers and featured Fuzzy Zoeller (playing the lead role in the funny man), Hale Irwin and Ben Crenshaw. Team LPGA was captained again this year by Al Geiberger and featured Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley and perhaps the greatest female golfer of all time, Annika Sorenstam. Both teams battled to the end and finished with 14-under 58's on the day.
For Lopez, the week was more than just this event as she hosted a clinic for executive women earlier in the week.
The Mechanic Goes To Work
Saturday saw Miguel Angel Jimenez follow up his opening round 67 with a blistering 9-under par 63. The 63 was his second lowest round ever on the PGA TOUR Champions. This was the second time in consecutive weeks Jimenez held the solo lead after day 2, but the lead could not have been any smaller as Jimenez sat only one stroke ahead of last year's runner up Kevin Sutherland and two in front of Friday's leader Glen Day. Perhaps the PGA TOUR Champions' "friendliest" curmudgeon Colin Montgomerie found himself only 3 back after two days.
Montgomerie and Jimenez both rode hot putters to get into contention needing only 53 putts each for the two days. Both one-putted 20 of the events first 36 holes.
While early contenders Rocco Mediate and Bernhard Langer seemed a bit too far back to contend at 5 off the pace, all one needs to do is look back to the last two years. In both years, Langer came on with furious Sunday charges to press winner Kenny Perry all the way to the final hole. Knowing this event's history, Sunday looked to be a real shoot-out.
"If you're not making birdies you're getting lapped!"
That was the most common phase by all contenders leading into the final round on Sunday. It didn't take long for the birdies to start flying. Montgomerie got off to two early birdies and got it to -13 along with Jeff Maggert, who also started the day at -11.
But before anyone had a chance to notice their great early play, here came a hard charging Langer. Langer blistered the front side going 6 under par through the first 7 holes putting him just two back on second-round leader Jimenez. Jimenez also started off hot going 2 under through his first three holes.
"Holy cow! Hold on to your hats!" said the volunteer working the manual scoreboard adjacent the 18th fairway. "I think it's going to be a wild one today!"
After Jimenez made his first bogie in 25 holes, Langer and Sutherland sat just one back as they made the turn at -15. Lange was not done with the birdie barrage yet. Hitting to within 3 feet on 11, Langer knocked in the putt to get to -16. Almost like prizefighters standing in the middle of the ring, Jimenez answer back with a birdie of his own to erase the bogie of the previous hole and retake a one stroke lead.
Meanwhile, someone unheralded was sneaking up the leaderboard. Joe Durant, a PGA TOUR journeyman, tip toed up to tie for the lead at -17.
In most years, 18 seems to be the hole that has the most drama. This year 14 made an argument for that title. A difficult driving hole with water all along the left with an even more difficult 2nd shot where that same left water guards a back left pin, 14 showed its teeth.
Langer, perhaps trying to press the issue, found his drive in the water left. Although he was able to play it out of the hazard, he ultimately could not save par and dropped back to -16, one of the lead of Durant and Jimenez.
Durant, on the other hand, perhaps feeding off the birdies of playing partners Montomerie and Jeff Maggert, made birdie of his own and took the lead at 18-under.
Jimenez however felt the sting of 14. His second shot found the hazard left and when his 3-foot bogie putt slide by left, he fell back to -15 with a double bogie and 4 strokes back with 5 to play.
Meanwhile, several groups ahead, Langer was staking his claim to the title posting a clubhouse-leading 17-under. All the German could do now was stand by and watch. "It's all up to those guys now," he said.
Durant spent the next few holes holding on to that precious 2-stroke lead over Maggert. Meanwhile, having been thought to be "dead in the water." After 14, Jimenez came roaring back with birdies on 3 of the next 4 holes to get back to -18 through 17.
Now it was down, as usual, to the final hole on Sunday once again...or so we thought.
Durant safely reached the edge of the green in two on the par 5 18th, prompting Langer to exit stage left. Durant's eagle chip came dangerously close to falling. The birdie put him to -19 and one ahead of Jimenez, who himself still had to play 18.
Like Durant, just minutes earlier, Jimenez found himself on the back edge of the par 5 in 2 shots. And, like Durant, his eagle attempt looked really good until a slight but noticeable wobble in the last few inches kept it out. The Jimenez birdie meant we were going to a playoff!
The Jimenez/Durant playoff was the first at this event since 1998. Starting on the 18th, the players would again attack the par 5 in two. Durant, slightly behind the drive of Jimenez struck first, knowing a long iron to about 10 feet. Jimenez answered with his second narrowly avoiding the water guarding the front of the green to end up 2 feet below the hole.
Jimenez' eagle effort once again slides just by, leaving the door open for Durant to capture the win.
Durant's 10-footer dove dead center into the middle of the cup for eagle and the win!
"It's a shame you know. I start 3 under par in the beginning...I can shoot today 8 under par on the first 9 easily, but then it's only minus three." Jimenez said after the play-off loss.
"He's a great player, world class player." Durant said of Jimenez after the round. "I knew I had to stay aggressive. The pressure of this event is if you are making pars you're getting lapped."
Durant withstood the pressure...and the fireworks...to become the 2016 3M Championship Champion. In the end, it was the slow steady climb of the journeyman up the leader-board that outdid the swashbuckling Spaniard. The play-off eagle, along with 10 birdies of his own on the day, gave Durant his first solo victory on the PGA TOUR Champions.
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