Picks and tips: Avoiding 10,000 lakes at the 3M Open
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The final major of the year is in the books, and the Olympics are on deck. But in between there’s an event that holds outsized importance for some, as the 3M Open represents one of the last chances for players to jockey for playoff position - or potentially save their card.
This is the third installment of the Tour’s lone stop in Minnesota, with Matthew Wolff winning the inaugural edition in dramatic fashion while Michael Thompson won a more subdued rendition last year. TPC Twin Cities should yield plenty of low scores, but the key will be avoiding the trouble that lurks around every corner - in the Land of 10,000 Lakes there are plenty of penalty areas, which means an errant swing can often lead to a big number.
Wolff and Thompson are both back in search of another win, while the field is headlined by betting favorite Dustin Johnson and the near-winner of the year, Louis Oosthuizen. Here’s a look at the players that have caught me eye, starting with a former major winner who leads the way in an important metric:
To Win (odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)
Keegan Bradley (+4000): Over the last 50 rounds played, no one in this field has better ball-striking stats than Bradley. He leads the way in SG: Approach and SG: Tee-to-Green, and he sits ninth over that span in total strokes gained. For the season he sits fourth on Tour in SG: Approach and sixth in SG: Tee-to-Green. It was somewhat of a surprise to see him miss the cut last week at Royal St. George’s given his relative strength with the irons, but rounds of 71-71 weren’t exactly miserable efforts. It means he has now missed three of four cuts, but his other four starts have all included strong performances: each a result of T-18 or better, headlined by his runner-up showing at Innisbrook.
Bradley’s weak spot remains the putter, but he has shown this spring that he can putt well in spurts. He’ll need to do that again this week to contend, as he did in Tampa when he went toe-to-toe with Sam Burns over the weekend, but his ball-striking numbers are promising enough that he doesn’t need to make everything in sight. Bradley finished T-46 in his lone prior 3M performance, shooting all four rounds under par, and given his form with the irons in recent months there’s reason to believe he’ll create plenty of birdie opportunities. Should he make his fair share, expect his name on the leaderboard deep into the weekend as has been the case each of the last four times he made the cut.
Hank Lebioda (+5000): Lebioda is following the Seamus Power game plan, stringing together weeks of contending consistently with the hopes that it will turn into a breakthrough win as it did Sunday for the Irishman at the Barbasol. Lebioda has pulled his season from the ashes, making seven straight cuts including three straight top-10s across the Travelers, Rocket Mortgage and John Deere. The lefty knows how to make birdies in bunches, shooting 66 or better four times in his last nine rounds across three different tracks.
Lebioda also boasts some success at TPC Twin Cities, finishing T-34 and T-26 here over the last two years while breaking 70 in all eight rounds. With questions lingering about the motivation levels of various players in the field, Lebioda is as confident as ever and seemingly focused on nabbing his maiden win. Of particular interest is his red-hot Sunday scoring average of late: each of his last six final rounds have gone for 68 or better, including a closing 65 two weeks ago at the Deere. If he’s in the mix through 54 holes, expect him to more than hold his own down the stretch.
Chris Kirk (+6600): Kirk won last summer on the Korn Ferry circuit, but he remains in search of his first PGA Tour victory since 2015. It just might come this week at TPC Twin Cities, where his well-rounded game should shine. Over the last 50 rounds Kirk is inside the top 10 in the field in both tee-to-green and short game metrics, and he’s still 16th or better in both over the last 36 rounds. He finished T-41 two years ago in his tournament debut, opening with a 66, and he was T-12 in Detroit just a few weeks ago.
Kirk missed the cut last week in England, but it was because of one bad round, not two: he opened with 68 but ballooned to a second-round 74. Dating back to January he has seven different finishes of T-18 or better, and while his stock has dropped a bit since its springtime highs this could be a prime opportunity to buy low and hope that his combination of long- and short-game consistency pays dividends in the Twin Cities.
Top-10 Finishes (odds via PointsBet)
Doug Ghim (+500): Ghim is another player whose ball-striking stats belie his odds this week. At 16th in SG: Approach and 25th in SG: Tee-to-Green this season, he is more than capable with iron in hand and coming off a T-18 finish two weeks ago at the Deere. That was the last of three straight made cuts, and he also finished T-14 at Colonial in May. He’s been nipping at the heels of another top-10 finish since a T-5 showing in Palm Springs early in the year, and this could be just the course to produce it. Ghim finished T-18 at this event last year, highlighted by rounds of 67-66 over the weekend, and returns to the Twin Cities with his game in even better shape than it was a year ago.
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Charl Schwartzel (+540): While his countryman Oosthuizen has been getting more of the pub, Schwartzel has had a strong turnaround this season in his own right. The two paired for a playoff loss at the Zurich, but the former Masters champ has also tallied six finishes of T-26 or better in his other eight starts since Augusta to get back inside the top 100 in the world. Schwartzel is among the top 10 in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds and now returns to a course where he finished T-3 last year while alternating rounds of 66 and 68. It’s clearly a course that fits his eye, and there’s no question that he returns to Minnesota this time around with his game in much better shape.
Erik van Rooyen (+900): This is something of a homecoming for the South African, as Van Rooyen went to school at Minnesota, met his wife here and has spent plenty of time in between. His price is indicative of a prolonged slide, having missed six of his last eight cuts, but the two outliers were relatively successful: a T-10 finish at Congaree and a T-14 showing at the Valero. Few in the field will know this course better than Van Rooyen, who told reporters last year that he played it often in practice while living in the area, and he’ll have more motivation to perform than perhaps oddsmakers have factored into his number. He’s a high-variance option this week, but there is plenty of upside.
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