Kenny Perry’s birdie on the opening hole Saturday was a nice way to start the second round of the 3M Championship after trailing Tom Lehman by five shots.
Perry soon went 2-for-2, then rolled in a third “beautiful” putt for a better-than-average start.
One swing later the rout was on.
Perry drew a 7-iron from 188 yards away at the par-3 fourth and made a hole-in-one.
Four holes. Five under. Tournament leader.
“I had an idea it might be a special day,” Perry said about his mindset after the ace. “I started thinking, ‘You know what, what is it to shoot 59?’ ”
Perry didn’t reach that milestone, but his 11-under 61 zipped him to the top of the leaderboard all alone entering Sunday’s final round at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, four shots clear of Kevin Sutherland and Scott Dunlap.
For a guy who is decreasing the number of professional golf events he enters, Perry likely won’t decide to give up the 3M Championship any time soon.
“I really love this golf course,” he said. “You gotta go low here, and that’s kind of the mentality I have.”
A 25-foot par putt on No. 9 allowed Perry to make the turn at 7 under for the round. His 61 is a second-round record at the 3M, and ties David Frost (third round, 2010) for the lowest mark ever.
The hole-in-one was the 10th in 3M Championship history. On three occasions — Bruce Lietzke in 2001, Tom Purtzer in 2005 and Jay Haas in 2011 — the player went on to win the championship.
Perry is not there yet, but he’s in ideal position to become the first back-to-back winner in the event’s 23-year history.
“I had my moments where I was going gangbusters out there,” Perry said. “It was a dream start right out of the gate. Just what the doctor ordered, and I was able to hang in there with it, back it up and add some more to it.”
Perry will tee off Sunday with the odds in his favor. He has played the last six rounds here in a combined 42 under par, and his Sunday scoring average in four previous appearances is 65.5.
“If Kenny goes out and shoots something in the low 60s [on Sunday] it’s game over,” Sutherland said.
He, too, got off to a hot start Saturday, with five straight birdies, including a 30-footer on No. 5.
Sutherland made another long putt on the par-3 13th but wasn’t able to capitalize on shorter tries that ultimately would have put him closer to the lead for the final round.
He shot 65 on Saturday, four strokes better than in Round 1, yet spent part of his postround interview with his fist on his chin as if he shot 80.
“I feel like I could have played quite a bit better than that,” Sutherland said. “Especially with that start. It was there. I hit the ball good enough; I just couldn’t find enough putts.”
Thanks to Perry’s blistering start, Lehman saw his first-round lead evaporate before he even teed off. Once he did the news didn’t get much better.
Lehman tweaked his back on a long bunker shot at No. 7, an ailment that bothered him most of the rest of the day.
Unable to complete a full swing, Lehman made a double bogey on the par-3 No. 8 after hitting his tee shot about 100 yards.
“This is part of golf, part of the game,” Lehman said. “I could have scored better, there’s no excuses. I could have made a few more putts to get a better scored than I did.”
Lehman made nine consecutive pars after the double before finishing with a birdie to wind up at 9 under, joining Marco Dawson and Bernhard Langer five shots back of Perry.
A year ago Perry needed a birdie on the final hole to nip Langer by a shot. Through 36 holes this time around Perry has made eagle at 18 both times.
“I need to continue to do that to win this thing,” Perry said. “If I can putt like I did, I’m going to love my chances.”