Late Saturday afternoon, when world 218th-ranked Michael Thompson's four-shot lead at the 3M Open dizzyingly disappeared, his caddie, Damien Lopez, firmly told his boss, "Time to step up and play the game."
When that moment arose in Sunday's final round, Thompson stepped down into a greenside sand bunker at the short par-4 16th hole. In doing so, he also stepped forth with a clutch 36-yard blast that stopped 2½ feet short of the hole before he made birdie there.
It was the defining shot in his 4-under-par 67 that held off hard-charging Adam Long's closing 64 by two shots and nine other players by three shots for his second PGA Tour victory and his first since he won the 2013 Honda Classic.
"He said that several times today, 'It's time to step up, hit the shot, commit to the target,'" Thompson said.
So he did.
Thompson held back tears Sunday in an on-course television interview after he punctuated a victory he called career-confirming with a 14-foot birdie putt at TPC Twin Cities' closing 18th hole when all he needed was a simple two-putt. He finished 19 under par.
"You can only dream of making a putt on the last hole to win a tournament," he said minutes later. "This has been my dream ever since I was 7 years old, to play on the PGA Tour. This is what we do all that work for. … This win validates the first win. It solidifies my presence on the PGA Tour and proves to my peers that I'm a threat every week."
Those peers proved themselves a threat all afternoon, when one by one 2019 Desert Classic champ Long, 2011 Masters champ Charl Schwartzel, 2019 Wells Fargo winner Max Homa, three-time tour winner Charles Howell and world 17th-ranked Tony Finau, among the many, challenged Thompson. Richy Werenski, tournament leader or co-leader after each of the first three rounds, finished tied for third with a Sunday 70 that just wasn't good enough to beat Thompson, who led the field in strokes gained putting.
"Unbelievable day," Thompson said. "I played really solid golf."
Long and two-time Korn Ferry tour winner Robby Shelton both shot 64s, Howell and Emiliano Grillo shot 65s and Bo Hoag came from well back with a 63, but it wasn't enough to beat a guy who made three bogeys all week.
Neither was Finau's 68 after he shot 65, 66 the first two days. He never made a putt he really needed and finished tied for third in a field whose top-ranked players — Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood — never made it to the weekend. Finau has the most top-eight finishes of any player without a win in the past four seasons. He has 25 of those now.
"They don't give out second-place trophies, third-place trophies," Finau said. "I've learned that the hard way with a lot of them coming early in my career. I continue to just believe and hope for the best for my future."
Thompson won in his 228th tour start. He earned a place in this week's World Golf Championship in Memphis, invitations to the PGA Championship and U.S. Open yet this summer as well as entry to the Sentry Tournament of Champions and Players Championship. He moved from 151st to 39th in the FedExCup rankings that decide which 125 player make the playoffs.
"It's job security for two years," said Thompson, who grew up in Tucson, Ariz., but played at Tulane until Hurricane Katrina hit, and then Alabama.
Fewer than 100 people standing around the 18th green cheered his victory on a tour that hasn't allowed spectators since it restarted in the COVID-19 pandemic last month. He had two putts from 14 feet to win and only needed the one to win the second 3M Open. Matthew Wolff won the first one last summer by making an eagle putt on No. 18.
"I said before I hit it, 'Best putt of the day,'" Thompson said, "and sure enough, I hit it absolutely perfect. … It's a little sad there wasn't anybody out there to cheer some of the great shots I hit toward the end. But I know everybody who's rooting for me at least was watching and screaming at their TV. This definitely is a win for everybody who supported me through the years."