BLAINE, Minn. (AP)Scott Piercy shot a 6-under 65 to share the 3M Open lead with Sungjae Im after a windy first round Thursday.
Tony Finau was two strokes back, with three near misses of birdie putts over his last four holes, along with Brice Garnett, Doug Ghim, Emiliano Grillo and Tom Hoge.
On a dry, 86-degree day at the TPC Twin Cities in suburban Minneapolis, the course’s penchant for producing low scores held up once again.
Playing in the second group of the day off the first tee, Piercy made 151 feet worth of putts. He birdied four of the first five holes on his back nine.
The 43-year-old Piercy, who led the 3M Open in 2019 by two strokes after the first round, is one of several on-the-fringe players in the field this year seeking a late-season lift in the FedEx Cup race. Piercy arrived in Minnesota in 138th place, with the cut for the playoffs at 125 and two events left after this to qualify. In four of his last six starts, Piercy has failed to advance to the weekend.
On tour since 2009, Piercy has four career wins. Just last week, he switched his caddie, his swing coach, his driver and his putter – an uncharacteristically drastic series of decisions for him.
”Every shot counts, and it’s time to buckle down,” Piercy said. ”Not that we don’t try to buckle down all the time, but there’s extra buckling down, I guess. To start off this way is really nice.
”The results with the putter today, I couldn’t be happier. It actually made me smile, and I don’t smile much. Sometimes you’ve got to make a change to get better.”
Im, who’s 19th in the FedEx Cup standings and 24th in the world, birdied four of his last six holes. The 24-year-old from South Korea tied for eighth at the Masters this year but tied for 81st last week at the British Open.
Finau, the lone member of last year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team and the 17th-ranked player in the world, has two top-five finishes this summer.
He missed a 3-foot birdie putt on 15 and left a 4-footer for birdie just short on 16. Then on the 18th, his tee and approach shots were spot on, but an 8-foot birdie putt lipped out and settled 4 inches from the cup. Making two of those three would’ve put him in a tie for the lead.
”There was enough wind up there to kind of affect every shot, putting and hitting, but I steadied the ship pretty good,” Finau said. ”I bogeyed the first hole, which is not the start you want on a day where it’s playing kind of tricky, but I was able to hole some putts in the middle of that front nine and kind of get going in the middle of the round.”
Hoge, who grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, about a 3 1/2-hour drive northwest, won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. He has missed the cut in each of his last six starts.
”I just feel comfortable being in the area. I think it helps having played in a lot of this wind growing up,” Hoge said, ”just to understand how much it will affect some of the shots out there.”
The highest-ranked player in the field, Hideki Matsuyama, withdrew. He cited a sore wrist after shooting a 77 to match his worst round of the season, his Saturday at the Masters on April 9.
Entering the week in eighth place in the FedEx Cup race and the world’s No. 14 player, Matsuyama hit into the water three times on the unforgiving and lakeside 18th hole and took a quadruple-bogey 9. Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters winner and a fourth-place finisher at the U.S. Open this summer, tied for seventh at the first edition of the 3M Open in 2019.
Mardy Fish, the former tennis star who’s playing on a sponsor exemption, was tied for last at 81. The best underdog story among the sponsor exemptions belonged to Jeff Overton, who’s making his first start in five years after recovering from a life-threatening spine infection that stemmed from an injection to treat a herniated disc.
Overton, who has more than $12 million in career earnings and played on the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup team, shot a 77.
”It was definitely emotional. Definitely teared up a couple times out there,” Overton said. ”Nothing crazy, but yeah, it’s a win.”
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