BLAINE, Minn. — The presence of Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka in Minnesota this week has given the fledgling 3M Open two heavy-hitting stars of the PGA Tour to headline the second edition of the tournament.
Perhaps their participation will be mutually beneficial. Johnson and Koepka could use a pick-me-up at the TPC Twin Cities on this Arnold Palmer-designed course, seeking a boost for the FedEx Cup standings in this strange, virus-interrupted season.
After winning the Travelers Championship in Connecticut four weekends ago, Johnson failed to make the cut at the Memorial in Ohio last week with the highest 36-hole score (160) of his PGA Tour career. The 36-year-old, who is currently ranked fourth in the world and 25th in the FedEx Cup standings, did not play in the inaugural 3M Open in 2019.
“I actually felt like the game was in good form going into the Memorial last week. I just struggled. It’s one of those weeks,” Johnson said. “I’ve still got a lot of confidence in what I’m doing.”
Johnson will tee off with Tommy Fleetwood and Tony Finau on Thursday morning in Blaine, a commuter suburb with a few cornfields among the sports fields and curved-street developments about 20 miles north of Minneapolis. Koepka (No. 6), Fleetwood (No. 12) and Finau (No. 17) are the only entrants currently ranked in the top 25.
The reshuffled PGA Tour schedule didn’t help the 3M Open, with most of the top players opting for rest this weekend after the high-profile Memorial. The World Golf Championship in Memphis is next, followed by the PGA Championship in San Francisco. Johnson made the rare decision to play four consecutive weeks.
Koepka made the cut at the Memorial but closed with an 80 on the final round, dropping him to 154th on the FedEx Cup standings. Last year at the 3M Open, he finished 65th. So there are plenty of frustrating feelings for him to brush aside in Blaine, on a water-lined layout that benefits big drivers like the 30-year-old reigning winner of the PGA Championship.
“I’ve played so bad lately. Yeah, just trying to find things. Every week I feel like the results aren’t there, but it’s getting better and better. My good shots are good, but I’ve just got to bring that bottom level up. I’ve hit some real costly shots,” said Koepka, who had knee surgery after last season. He’s one of nine major champions in this field. Bubba Watson is the only other one who has won more than one major title.
The 3M Open will be the seventh stop on the restarted tour, all without fans thus far. Players have now grown accustomed to the virus testing, maybe more so than the absence of the energetic galleries. The crowds in Minnesota, whether at the 3M Open last year or at the Ryder Cup in 2016 at Hazeltine, have long been praised by the regulars in the sport for their friendliness and fervor.
“It is weird when you make a birdie and there’s no applause, no cheer, no anything. It’s kind of an eerie feeling, but at the same time, I’m just happy to be back playing,” Koepka said.
There are plenty of houses abutting the course, which will at least allow for some positive affirmation from live human beings who aren’t caddies for the players as they walk the fairways, but that’s hardly a replacement for the atmosphere Matthew Wolff reveled in last year after his eagle on the final hole gave him a one-stroke victory over Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau. That just happened to be Wolff’s first PGA Tour event.
“As soon as I got on property, I kind of had all the memories of last year flowing in, and I got a little chills walking in the clubhouse,” said Wolff, who was pleasantly surprised to find a front-row parking spot reserved for the tournament’s most recent winner.