When the air horn sounded to signal a weather delay Saturday at the 3M Championship, only six players remained on the course.
Kenny Perry was on the 18th green staring at an 8-foot putt for eagle just as heavy rain and lightning chased away hefty galleries at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine and sent players and caddies scurrying to the clubhouse.
When play resumed two hours later, the skyboxes were empty and the cameras had been packed away. A half-dozen course marshals remained as the spectators to Perry’s sparking finish.
Perry swept in the putt, capping a 9-under 63 to give him a 3M Championship record-tying 16 under par heading into Sunday’s final round.
He has a one-shot lead over Round 1 leader Marco Dawson and is three clear of Jeff Maggert, Gene Sauers, Gary Hallberg and Bernhard Langer.
Perry, winner of six events since joining the Champions Tour in 2011, has picked a fine time to play well, with a special exemption into next week’s PGA Championship in his home state of Kentucky. But before that, he never fretted during the drawn-out delay.
Why would he? The hard part, clearing that 185-yard bass-filled body of water in front of the green, was over.
“I was fortunate to get to 18 when I did,” Perry said. “I sat in the clubhouse for a couple hours, ate some chicken wings and was able to come back for that putt. It was a good wait.”
Not for everyone.
Maggert looked to be in good position to give Perry a push atop the leaderboard but enters Sunday with a sour taste in his mouth.
Playing in the day’s final group, Maggert, Dawson and Rocco Mediate hit their tee shots on 18 just before the horn sounded. When they returned to the soaked fairway, Maggert and Mediate hit their approach shots short into the water. Dawson, contemplating a 6- or 7-iron when the delay began, saw his partners’ shots die into the post-storm heavy air.
He instead drew a 5-iron and stuck the ball pin-high 25 feet away. He rolled in the eagle putt to get to 15 under.
“They weren’t extreme conditions, but they did change,” Dawson said. “The greens being softer made it a lot easier to hit the shot. You can go ahead and make the mistake of pulling too much club and you’re still going to be OK because it’s not going to get away from you.”
Dawson was the lucky one.
“That group got hosed,” Perry said, adding he had the help of a nearly two-club wind when he hit over the water. “They had nothing out there. That would be a bummer to sit around for two hours then have to come out and hit a shot over the lake. That’s not a fun shot. I hate that for them.”
For the 75 players unaffected by the weather, it was another ideal day for red numbers. The field averaged 69.636 strokes, the lowest second-round scoring average in tournament history, to put 15 players at double-digit under par after two days.
That group includes Hale Irwin, who at 69 is in at 10 under after a 6-under 66. It’s the second day in a row the three-time 3M champ has bettered his age and it could have been better yet. Irwin missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the sixth hole and left a 30-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole resting on the lip.
He flicked that in for a 30 on the front nine.
Irwin is the first player to better his age twice in the same Champions Tour event since Gary Player in 2009.
Interestingly enough, Player, 78, earlier in the day as part of the Greats of Golf challenge said, “age is merely a concept man has devised.”
Perhaps, but Irwin knows he’s still up against a batch of kids. Relatively speaking.
“At 69 if I can go out and shoot 69 or better I’m going to feel good about it,” Irwin said. “I think it’s a long shot to say I’m going to win something. But stranger things have happened. I’m in good position here if I can just hold it together.”