Low scores, tight race at 3M Championship

  • Article by: BRIAN STENSAAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2012 - 10:02 AM

A close finish seems likely after par took a beating and 23 players were bunched tightly at the 3M Championship.

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Buckle up.

If Friday's first round is any indication, the race to grab hold of the 3M Championship trophy Sunday afternoon is going to be an exciting one.

More than half of the 81-player field finished in red numbers at TPC Twin Cities on Friday. At the top are four players who took the best advantage of wide fairways and perfect greens.

"If you shoot even par today, you know you haven't got a chance," Peter Senior said.

Senior, Chien Soon Lu, Gil Morgan and Steve Pate all turned in cards of 7-under-par 65s. They lead a pack of three players one shot back and are two clear of six players at 5 under, including past 3M Championship winners David Frost, Bernhard Langer and D.A. Weibring.

Twenty-three players are within four shots of the lead.

"It's going to be a traffic jam up at the top," Senior said. "I think it's going to need nearly 20 under if you're going to have a chance."

The four off to the best starts all took advantage of the come-and-get-me greens.

Pate birdied five holes in a row on the front nine. He hit all 18 greens in regulation and spun in two of his eight birdie putts from more than 35 feet. It helped him finish with his best score in 31 events on the Champions Tour.

"Made some putts and, gee, imagine that, it turned into a good score," said Pate, who worked with putter extraordinaire Dave Stockton this week and decided to ditch his belly putter for a traditional model. "I've fought putting a lot lately. But you use your putter more than any club in the bag. It better work well."

Morgan's bogey-free 65, which also included a pair of long putts, allowed him to shoot his age for the second year in a row. Yet this is the first time since the 2008 early-season Turtle Bay Championship in Hawaii he has held or shared the first-day lead. The last of his 25 Champions Tour victories - third all-time -- came in 2007 at Pebble Beach.

"A round like this gives you incentive; 'Hey, I can still do this a little bit,'" Morgan said. "If I keep hitting it like I did today, I feel I can do well."

He's sure to have a lot of company Saturday morning.

Chief among them is Senior, who has yet to win on the Champions Tour but lost twice last season in playoffs and was runnerup to Jay Haas at last year's 3M.

He owns an agonizing eight top-three finishes since 2010 without cashing a winner's check.

"It's getting on my mind a lot more than in past seasons," he said. "I desperately want to win. I've had my chances, I just haven't been good enough to get over the line."

The magic formula, he said, is to shoot a carbon copy of Friday's round and hope.

"You're going to have to hit something pretty good on the weekend to win," he said.

The four Minnesotans in the field finished with mixed results.

Course co-designer Tom Lehman couldn't get much going early with five consecutive pars. An eagle on the par-5 sixth hole gave him a charge toward a 4-under 68. He is one of six players three shots out of the lead.

The day's all-Land of 10,000 Lakes threesome of Don Berry, John Harris and Dave Tentis was won by Berry. The club professional at Edinburgh U.S.A shot a 2-under 70. Told it was five shots out of the lead, he didn't flinch.

"They're the best players in the world from the last 30 years out here," he said. "They're awesome."

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