Qualifier has new role as challenger at 3M

  • Article by: CRAIG MALVEAUX , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 3, 2012 - 11:42 PM

Willie Wood was among the leaders after one round, continuing a hot spell that started on Tuesday.

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Willie Wood played his way into contention at the 3M Championship after making the field as a Tuesday qualifier.

Photo: Andy King, Associated Press

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Four days ago, Willie Wood fought for a spot in the 3M Championship field.

He might be fighting for the tournament title this weekend.

Wood, a Tuesday qualifier, had a 5-under 67 on Friday in the first round of the 3M Championship at TPC Twin Cities. That put him two shots behind the four leaders -- Steve Pate, Gil Morgan, Peter Senior and Chien Soon Lu.

"I've been playing well this summer," said Wood, who has four top-25 finishes this year on the Champions Tour. "I had a really nice stretch this last couple of months. The difference has been in my putting game. I'm making more putts, and that carried over into the qualifier."

Wood won the qualifier at Northfork with a 5-under 66, beating 23 others and winning one of six spots in the 3M field. He continued his strong play Friday.

"He played well out there today," said Craig Stadler, who shared a tee time with Wood and was four shots off the lead. "He's come a long way. Willie putted very well and hit a lot of good shots. He scored what he probably should have scored."

If only Wood agreed. Immediately after the round, Wood signed his scorecard and marched to the practice range to iron out a few kinks -- for two-plus hours.

"I didn't hit a lot of solid shots late in the round, so I wanted to work on my swing and get a better feel for it," he said after his bogey-free round. "We have 36 holes left to go."

Wood, whose last victory came on the PGA Tour, in the 1996 Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic, ended his round with seven consecutive pars.

"I had a good feel for the greens," he said. "I could have had a few more birdies, but I'm right where I want to be."

Stadler was, too, for a while. The 13-time winner on the PGA Tour stumbled on the final two holes, finishing with a bogey and double bogey to drop into a tie for 20th.

"I gave it all I had until the end," Stadler said. "You hate to finish the way I did. I thought I was hitting the ball better than I had in the last couple weeks, and I was until the last couple of holes. It's tough."

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