This 3M Open last year was the final blemish for Dustin Johnson before everything flipped in a major way to finish out 2020. After withdrawing from last year’s event in Minnesota, he finished in the top six in seven of his next eight starts to close out the year. That run included a runner-up at the PGA, a playoffs win, a FedEx Cup title, and that November green jacket. It put a stranglehold on the top spot in the World Ranking.
But here we are a year later at the same event, and Jon Rahm has overtaken DJ atop the world. Some of that has been Rahm’s excellence, but Johnson has not exactly done his part to hold him off. His T-8 finish last week at The Open, where he never really contended, was just his third top-10 on the PGA Tour this year. He’s missed cuts at majors and just generally been a non-factor on tour.
Friday brought more of the same sloppiness for DJ. There were tugged drives right to start. There were imprecise approaches and wedges, like the ball he airmailed from 150 yards at the second. There were missed opportunities on a course where birdies are to be had in bunches, especially for a player of his skill level. And then there was the blow-up, which came via bogey at the 12th. It may seem harsh to characterize a bogey as a blow-up, but when you’re Dustin Johnson and it’s a par 5 playing downwind and statistically as the easiest hole on the course, a bogey 6 is a nightmare. A greenside bunker shot in which DJ caught almost all ball and sent it flying some 40 yards over the green led to the dropped shot. After that bit of back-and-forth around the green, you had to wonder if Johnson was ready to pack it up early on another 3M Open. A bogey came at the very next hole and at another par 5, the finisher at TPC Twin Cities, for an uninspired inward 39 and MC.
As we saw last year, a win could always be coming just around the corner after some iffy play from DJ. He’s held to a higher standard given his talent and resume. After making some moderate noise last week, we were hoping for more from the oddsmakers’ favorite than a quiet MC. The playoffs and Ryder Cup approach and it sure would be nice to see second-half DJ appear again for those.
Are Matthew Wolff and Patrick Reed the subject of a budding bromance few could have seen coming? Wolff and Reed played together throughout the first two days at TPC Twin Cities and appeared to find some level of camaraderie not just on the course, but also off it as well.
They drew a late-early tee time for the first two rounds, which was the subject of some anonymous Twitter account debate and drama last week at The Open. That draw often leaves you little time to get your act together on Thursday night to get a meal and crash. It’s made harder when weather delays the opening round, which occurred Thursday in Minnesota. So the two did what any young professionals in need of a rapid meal on the road might do—drop into a local Chipotle. The chance reunion after the round was coincidental and unplanned, but Wolff shared news of meeting on Instagram and made sure to call Reed a “good guy” and include that he picked up the tab for Wolff, his caddie, and a fan in the restaurant.
Wolff’s affinity for the 2018 Masters champion seemed to come out on the course during coverage early on Friday, too. At the fourth hole, a par-3 listed at 171 yards, Reed hit what he self-mocked was “another one of those hard hooks” that dove into the hazard left of the green. Any drop circumstance with Reed is now looked upon with enhanced scrutiny and tension, so he deliberated on where the ball may have crossed and where to drop. Wolff seemed eager to help out the process, even suggesting a couple times that Reed was well within his rights to find a more benevolent area to drop. PGA Tour Live commentator Gary Christian even suggested Wolff might have a future as a rules official, he was that involved in the deliberation and process of finding the right place to drop. He was enthusiastically engaged, while the third player in their group, Michael Thompson, stood off to the side after saying he did not see the shot.
At the end of the round, Reed and Wolff then exchanged the usual handshakes but kept the conversation going with giggles and grins walking off the green. On the surface, the two do not seem to have much in common. Reed is from the Southeast and now lives in Texas. He’s eight years older. He often carries a brooding countenance and is not exactly known as a garrulous playing partner. Wolff is a 22-year-old West Coast kid, emotive and often full of pep. He did most of the talking in his excitable Cali cadence during that drop sequence at the fourth.
Despite those differences, the two seem to be getting along. Maybe it was just a two-day hang that we won’t see or hear about ever again. Or maybe they really enjoyed each other’s company and it’s the start of a two-man match play pairing. Wolff would need to get really hot over the next month to make this year’s Ryder Cup team. Reed is likely to be a captain’s pick for September at Whistling Straits, though there’s no immediate answer to who he might partner with again like there was in 2014 or 2016. Perhaps looking at contemporaries that he’s played against coming up through junior and college golf are not the answer, but a younger guy a generation behind him ready to ride for him and fire up crowds with similar gesticulations. Wolff may not be that option in 2021, but perhaps sometime down the road at another Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. Regardless, it was interesting to see the two bond a little bit as they both played their way through to the weekend.
No hangover for King Louis
There was some moderate surprise that Louis Oosthuizen stayed in the field this week after another major championship heartbreak—an ocean away, no less. You would have quickly forgiven a lackluster missed-cut performance or some dramatic fall off from what we’ve watched in the crucible of the last three major championships. But the South African, who said he is skipping next week’s Olympics to focus on the FedEx Cup, showed up in Minnesota and is hanging around the first page of the leadern board again.
Oosthuizen posted his second straight round of 68 and will go to the weekend at T-19, four off the lead. The putter got plenty of publicity on Friday, as he made in excess of 150 feet of putts, a stat that’s always a favorite but yields minimal insight. He drained one from 50 feet at the third hole, from 40 feet at the sixth, and 27 feet on the 11th. (One enjoyable thing about this TPC Twin Cities layout is that the greens are huge and provide chances for those bombs to roll in to great fanfare.) Those were the highlights, for sure, but his strokes-gained metrics on the green were not exceptional, while the tee-to-green numbers, always the reliable strength of his game, were a separator through the first two rounds.
That he saw several long putts go in the heart of the cup cannot hurt for the No. 1 putter statistically this year on tour. Louis seems to be feeling it still and does not look fatigued after the close call at the Open and subsequent trip over from England. That exhaustion may set in on the weekend, but with 36 holes to play, he’s the most accomplished and most in-form player among the top 25 on the leaderboard. You’d like to think that with the potential for more major heartbreak this year now gone, perhaps Louis is freed up to win something on tour in the second half of the year. But unfathomably, he’s also never won on the PGA Tour outside of the majors. Can at least that streak of being a groomsmen but never the groom end already?
A game within the game both on this Friday and over the weekend is watching players try to collect those precious FedEx Cup points and either enhance or hurt their Ryder Cup standing. On the former, this is one of just a few opportunities left to earn FedEx Cup points. We’re hit with ubiquitous standings updates year-round, but this is right about the time it matters most so it’s worth paying attention to those movements, especially with next week’s Olympics break.
Ryan Armour, for instance, birdied the last hole as the sun set in Minnesota and now sits in a share of the lead with a projected 90-spot jump into the playoffs from his current spot at 135. Roger Sloan is another big potential mover into the postseason through the first 36 holes. This is the opportunity this late-season event presents. The field is thinner coming the week after a major, and with a full point allotment, now is a time to strike and ensure greater card security for next year.
That security is likely already there for anyone up for Ryder Cup consideration, but those opportunities to impress are dwindling as well. On Friday, both Tony Finau and Sergio Garcia were in the spotlight with potential (maybe even “likely” in Sergio’s case) roster spots coming this fall. Given the expanded captain’s pick selections this year on the American side, and the crowded field vying for those picks, someone like Finau would do well not to eject off leaderboards from now until September. Finau, like DJ, has had a quiet summer, given the standards of consistency we’ve come to expect. Despite an underwhelming final two holes in which he dropped a shot and parred the par-5 finisher, he still posted a 67 to play his way onto the right side of the cut line. An important weekend now awaits.