Four days after he shot a bounce-back 65 in the British Open's final round, fan favorite Rickie Fowler did that one shot better with Thursday's 7-under-par 64 in the 3M Open's first round in Blaine.
That tied him with former Minnesotan Troy Merritt and three-time PGA Tour winner Jhonattan Vegas, one shot ahead of Scott Stallings and Adam Schenk.
Hours after Fowler and Merritt finished their weather-delayed morning round, Vegas tied for the lead in Thursday's last light. He did so with a birdie on the par-5 18th hole after he hit his approach shot through the gathering darkness and either into or over a corporate tent behind the green.
Vegas said he and his caddie "messed up" the distance to the green trying to play fast on a second shot that could have sent up a tournament-leading eagle 3. Vegas, his caddie, playing partners, rules officials, spectators and a photographer all searched for the ball, which was eventually was found at the back of the tent.
He received a free drop from in front of the tenting and got up and down after 9 p.m.
"It was a little bit of a nightmare right at the end, especially at the end of a good round," he said.
Play was suspended because of darkness with 11 players still on the course.
Ranked No. 124 in FedExCup rankings that determine the 125-man playoff field, Fowler drove the ball better, struck his iron shots better, got up and down when necessary and made some putts. That's everything he didn't do when he shot 72 and 75 in Friday and Saturday rounds last week at Royal St. George's.
After Thursday's bogey-free round at TPC Twin Cities, Fowler also took a playful jab at fellow PGA Tour player Bryson DeChambeau.
"I drove it poorly Friday and Saturday," he said slyly. "It was not my driver's fault."
Then Fowler paused for effect.
"Had to," he said.
He referenced without naming names the kerfuffle caused at the Open's first round when DeChambeau blamed his equipment after he drove the ball all over the dunes and shot 71.
On Thursday, Fowler — a member of four Ryder Cup teams and a Players Championship winner — didn't play like someone fighting for his playoff life while he has worked for months through swing changes.
Or maybe he did in a 2½-hour, weather-delayed round that he called "simple and small" with "a lot of good stuff there."
Fowler's morning 64 was four strokes better than any of the field's other big names. Collectively, major winners Louis Oosthuizen (68), Dustin Johnson (70), Sergio Garcia (70), Patrick Reed (70) and Bubba Watson (72), plus Tony Finau (72), shot 4 under.
Merritt had two days to kill in England after he missed the 36-hole cut and before the charter took players home. He slept five hours on the plane and another four upon arrival before he revisited a course he knows well. He made eight birdies — including six on during a back-nine 30 — and a bogey while he played a tournament for a sixth consecutive week.
Merritt tied for seventh in the inaugural 2019 3M Open and missed the cut last summer at the same course where he watched the PGA's senior tour play when he attended Spring Lake Park High School 6 miles away.
"I've seen this golf course now for about 20 years," said Merritt, who played at Winona State before he transferred to Boise State. "I came to watch the seniors play and got to play it once or twice. It's a lot of fun. It's great for the players. It's great for the fans. You can make a lot of birdies.
"If you like shootouts, this course is for you, and you're going to get another one this week."