The familiar 3M Championship formula for success was displayed yet again Friday: Hit ’em close, knock ’em in, repeat.
Fifty-six of 81 players broke par and 35 shot rounds in the 60s on a sun-splashed, low-wind afternoon that saw golf balls seeking flagsticks and putts rolling with a purpose on receptive greens.
The one they’re all chasing is a man who showed determination and grit before the 3M even got underway.
Has to be Bernhard Langer, right? The Schwab Cup points leader was indeed fantastic in Round 1 at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, less than a week after lapping the field twice-over at the Senior British Open.
Instead the 18-hole leader is Marco Dawson, an open qualifier who rattled off seven birdies and an eagle for a masterful 9-under-par 63 three days after getting the final spot into the 3M field in a playoff at Victory Links a few miles away.
“I feel like I’m just lucky to be here,” said Dawson, playing for the fifth time this season via the weekly last-chance event. “I played well in that qualifier — but not as good as [Friday].”
He’ll likely need to do it all over again, probably twice, to be around when the trophy is handed out Sunday evening.
After Dawson it’s a crowded leaderboard, with a host of familiar, battle-tested names ready to give chase on the weekend.
Rocco Mediate, Jeff Maggert, Vijay Singh and Langer all finished with 64s on Friday. Kenny Perry is at 7 under, one shot better than a group of five players who sit three shots out of the lead despite shooting 66s.
Mediate, who has a home on Lake Minnetonka and practices often at TPC Twin Cities, finished with a bang when a long eagle putt on 18 found the hole. The putt looked as if it might run well off the green had it missed.
Even three-time 3M winner Hale Irwin got into the action, bettering his age of 69 with a 4-under 68, the third time this season he’s accomplished the feat.
“It seems like every week something crazy happens out here,” Mediate said. “And we don’t even count Langer in this talk, because he’s off in his own little world and just let him stay there for a while.”
Langer hit all 14 fairways and all but one green in regulation, and yet said he was “maybe slightly disappointed” with his scorecard that showed only one birdie on the par-5s.
“A really good round of golf,” said Langer, who knocked in a 155-yard 8-iron on the 14th hole for eagle. “There were some low scores out there, but you still had to do it. It’s some pretty good golf.”
Dawson’s round was at the top.
Starting on the back nine, the Champions Tour rookie birdied Nos. 11-13 then chipped in from 35 feet for eagle on No. 18 to turn in 31. He posted four birdies on the front nine, never having to make a putt longer than 10 feet.
His 63 is a season best.
“I was dialed in as far as the distance and the direction,” Dawson said of his iron play. “If I wasn’t pin high, I was real close one side or the other. That helps a lot.”
He also had some added motivation after peeking at the leaderboard on the ninth hole and seeing Mediate’s 64 on the board. With a birdie, Dawson would not just have the lead but one-up his former Florida Southern teammate by a shot.
“I saw Rocco up there at 8 under and knew I had to do one better than that and have him stare at that all night,” Dawson said.
Mediate might be the one with an old college battle to win, but for everyone else it’s the usual race to the lowest red number.
“The guys drive the ball so well out here on these large fairways,” Maggert said. “You can tee it high and let it fly. [I shot] 8 under and I probably need a couple of sixes on the weekend. It’s one of those courses though if you’re hitting the ball well you can make a lot of birdies. It’s fun because you get rewarded if you’re playing well.”
Not everyone can relate.
Defending champion Tom Pernice Jr. finished Friday with a bogey-free 3 under, but that puts him in a 12-way tie for 24th place.
TPC Twin Cities co-designer Tom Lehman never gained any momentum Friday. He finished well off the pace with a 2-over 74 and sits in a tie for 71st place.
Fellow Minnesotans John Harris (71) and Don Berry (73) also are well back in the field.
“I didn’t do anything much,” Harris said. “I made some putts, but when you see guys shooting [9 under] it’s not enough.”