A boat race seemed to be on, a lazy final round was on the docket as Michael Thompson cruised to a four-shot lead on Saturday afternoon. But Thompson’s engine stalled on TPC Twin Cities back nine, bringing the S.S. Richy Werenski and a caravan of other ships into the heat. With 10 players within four of Thompson and Werenski’s co-lead at 15 under, the 3M Open has all the makings for a Sunday shootout.
Here is what you missed from Saturday’s action in Blaine, Minn.
Thompson, Werenski share lead
Sharing the lead with Werenski after 36 holes, Thompson could do no wrong through the first 12 holes Saturday, carding four birdies against zero bogeys. For his part, Werenski—who rode a hot putter through the first two rounds—couldn’t buy a bucket, and his two birdies were nixed with bogeys at the fifth and 11th.
Yet Werenski answered, and answered with vigor. The Georgia Tech product made red figures on three of the last four holes to insert himself back into the tournament conversation. It was a run amplified by Thompson bogeying the 17th and hitting his drive into the water at the 18th. Thompson was able to save par, but the duo finished the day where they started, tied for the 3M Open lead heading into Sunday.
“Got into a really nice groove there starting on 5 and really gave myself a lot of chances all the way up until 17 where I just made one bad swing,” Thompson said. “I just didn’t commit with that wind off the left. Kind of the same with that tee shot on 18. To finish with that par on 18 is huge. I really wanted that par, I didn’t want to compound the mistake I made on 17. I think that’s going to bode well for me tomorrow.”
Thompson will be searching for his second career PGA Tour victory, Werenski hoping to grab his first.
“It’s the last nine holes, that’s going to be the important nine,” Werenski said. “Just kind of hang around until then and then get going. Hit fairways, hit some greens and hopefully we’ll make some putts.”
Chasing Thompson and Werenski are Charl Schwartzel and Tony Finau at 13 under, Max Homa at 12 and seven players—including Alex Noren and Ryan Moore—at 11 under.
Okay, it’s not on the level of the Masters’ Par 3 Contest jinx. However, that something as delightfully stupid as the Puerto Rico Open Curse even exists challenges the bounds of plausibility.
For those who need a reminder, in its 13-year existence, no player who has won the alternate-event Puerto Rico Open has gone on to notch a victory outside the Carribean commonwealth. [Although shoutout to Michael Bradley, who has won the PRO twice.] The face of this plague is Finau, who—despite making Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, cracking the World Top 10 and finishing in the top 10 in five of the last eight majors—has yet to log tour win No. 2.
Through most of Saturday, it appeared Finau’s vexation would continue, as Big Tone was just one under after 14 while the rest of the field painted the course red. However, with a birdie at the 15th Finau ended the day just two shots behind the lead, well in position to bury the PRO Curse in one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.
To do so, Finau will need to overcome another tormentor: Sundays. Finau ranks in the top 25 in first (18th), second (25th) and third-round (14th) scoring on tour this season, but is 171st in final-round average.
“I think I’ve been a little slow out of the box in some of my round 4s,” Finau said. “I think if I get off to a good start, get some momentum, I’ve got the ability to put the gas on the pedal and make some birdies. As long as I don’t shoot myself in the foot early, I think we’re going to have a shot tomorrow. I’m excited to put myself in those positions. Disappointing at times when you can’t get the job done, but for me, I have to welcome it at this point and just keep fighting and hopefully the door comes down eventually.”
Former Masters champ shows life
It’s been a rough few years for Charl Schwartzel. Injuries have hampered the 2011 Masters champ, and the South African’s wrist woes did not abate in his fall return. He’s missed the cut in six of nine appearances this season, including MCs in his last four outings. With just three starts left on his medical exemption, Schwartzel—who has fallen to No. 224 after reaching as high as No. 6—is in desperate need of a good finish, entering the week 143rd in the FedEx Cup.
Through three rounds at TPC Twin Cities, that providence has come.
Schwartzel turned in a three-under 68 on Saturday, ending the day in a tie for third, two shots behind Thompson and Werenski.
“You know, I don’t know if I’m hitting it on all cylinders, but I’m managing to put a score on all cylinders,” Schwartzel said. “There’s a lot more to this game than just hitting it well.
“I feel like I’m managing my way around the course pretty good. Yeah, I look forward to tomorrow. It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance. That really was the goal coming into this week, at least have a chance to win.”
To punch the ticket on Sunday, Schwartzel will need to continue his newfound faculty with the driver. Ranking 190th on tour in strokes gained/off-the-tee on the year, the South African is fourth in the category this week.
Schwartzel will be looking for his first win on any circuit since 2016.
“Yeah, I think I’m definitely going to rely on my past wins and the experience I’ve got,” he said. “You know, you don’t win it on the first hole, you’re going to have to hang in there for 18 more holes and keep with the process, and if I’m doing what I’m doing now, there’s no reason why I can’t post a good score.”
Matthew Wolff began the day just outside the fire. The fledgling star will need to go low Sunday to get near the flames.
Wolff, the defending 3M Open champ, was just three strokes back of 36-hole co-leaders Thompson and Werenski to start his round. But Wolff bogeyed the first following a poor shot out of a greenside bunker and didn’t fully recover until notching back-to-back birdies on the 14th and 15th. Thompson’s stumble at the end keeps him in the mix, but with a host of others going low, Wolff’s one-under 70 dropped his seven spots down the board, ending the day five shots back of the lead.
Still, after a so-so start to the season, Wolff has a chance for his second top 10 of the month and third top 25 since the tour’s return in June.