Ben Coley's last PGA Tour preview unearthed the 150/1 winner and 28/1 runner-up, so don't miss his selections for the 3M Open.
2pts e.w. Matthew Wolff at 33/1 (Sky Bet, William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Patrick Rodgers at 66/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Bo Hoag at 100/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Erik van Rooyen at 100/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Beau Hossler at 125/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
0.5pt e.w. Bo Van Pelt at 300/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
0.5pt e.w. Nick Watney at 500/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
Though they may not have known it at the time, organisers had two things in their favour when the 3M Open completed its rare graduation from Champions to PGA Tour event. One was a course which, while off-the-shelf, at least came complete with the sort of 'risk-reward' holes which guarantee a certain form of excitement. The other has been confirmed retrospectively: in winner Matt Wolff and runner-up Collin Morikawa, they had two of the most exciting young players the sport has produced in years taking early steps towards stardom.
A combination of these two factors made for one of the best finishes you're likely to see, as Bryson DeChambeau made eagle to post the clubhouse lead, then watched on as Wolff's eagle confined him to a share of second. It was utterly exhilarating, and the honesty of DeChambeau's expression when he realised his pocket had been picked only served to extend the high.
Though less explosive, the 2020 renewal delivered on a different level. The first humdrum field of summer and played without fans, it could easily have passed by without registering, especially with Michael Thompson and Richy Werenski making up the final group. Instead, close to a dozen players fired shots at Thompson, who played one of the finest fairway bunker shots you'll see as he fended them all off. OK, as I type that, maybe it was still one for the purist.
The overriding feature of TPC Twin Cities has been low-scoring, not without the risk which a lake here or there will always bring. Though Wolff and Morikawa did not play enough rounds to register in the 2019 PGA Tour stats, both would've ranked inside the top 10 of more than 200 players in birdie average. DeChambeau was 17th, Wyndham Clark was 13th, and Troy Merritt, another in the mix, ranked 10th to underline again where he's at his best.
Thompson's outlier performance rails against this logic, but Werenski was selected on these pages at a big price owing largely to his ability to stack up birdies and eagles. A week later, he underlined it by winning the Barracuda Championship, where two eagles over the weekend were vital in edging past Merritt. For those who take notes, whatever happens here in the 3M Open might be really valuable in a fortnight's time.
Dustin Johnson heads the market, despite withdrawing following a round of 78 last summer. He was at the end of a bizarre fortnight back then, having shot 80-80 a week earlier, but won in the weeks before that. Perhaps that tells us he's never far away, and so does last week's top-10 finish at the Open. Nevertheless, his catastrophic run during the third round there told us something, too: this isn't the player of nine months ago.
That's reflected in the price, but having flown in from London he's not for me, even if he's hopped off planes and won more than once in the past. Nor is Louis Oosthuizen, who wasn't really a factor in Germany after a near-miss in the US Open and faces a similar test of enthusiasm, while Tony Finau remains below his best and Patrick Reed must bounce back from a missed cut having been a little quiet this summer.
When you get beyond these four, you meet Cameron Tringale. One of the most solid performers around, he deserves respect but nevertheless serves to underline that the field strength here drops off a cliff. That's why Robert MacIntyre and Sergio Garcia simply have to be considered, but I'm more inclined to take a chance on the aforementioned MATTHEW WOLFF.
Not only did Wolff win here in 2019, but he did so thanks to a field-leading tee-to-green display. Second in approaches, he was firing at flags throughout the final round and was rewarded spectacularly when at last a mid-length putt dropped from off the green at the 72nd hole.
His performance and that of Morikawa suggest that stacking up opportunities through consistently aggressive, quality approaches is the best way to take Twin Cities apart, and in his own way Thompson backed that up. Best known previously for a hard-fought Honda Classic win, his approach play (fourth) and putting (first) did the trick.
Wolff putted better but hit it worse on his return, nevertheless 12th place represented an excellent first crack at defending a title. The only surprise is he's still looking for his second, owing to an unfortunate play-off defeat at the Shriners, and DeChambeau getting his own back in both the Rocket Mortgage Classic and US Open last year.
Of course, there are other factors: Wolff took a lengthy break from April to June as he struggled with his mental health. Returning at Torrey Pines for the US Open was a remarkably bold decision and although doubtless frustrated to fall to 15th in the end, being in the mix for most of the week must be considered above and beyond expectations. After all, he was a 200/1 shot.
Another missed cut at the Travelers might reflect the fact he simply doesn't like Pete Dye's quirky layout, having also struggled there in 2019, and last time out it was only a poor putting week which kept him down the leaderboard at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. His approach play actually represented a step up on the US Open, enough to rank 18th in the field.
He'll need to have improved again, but the scope to have done so is there and watching college rival Morikawa win an Open Championship should serve as extra motivation to build on a couple of encouraging starts. Ultimately, in a field so lacking in depth, the upside is enormous and the downsides are factored into quotes of 33/1.
Rickie Fowler and Maverick McNealy are both on the shortlist, the former clearly capable of two or three good rounds and likely to add a fourth soon; the latter bang in-form and on the cusp of a breakthrough if he continues to drive it as well as he has been.
But while the market has very much reacted to McNealy, two fellow former amateur standouts might have been overlooked somewhat and I'm very keen on both PATRICK RODGERS and BEAU HOSSLER at the prices.
The concern with all three of these players would be that they are unlikely to produce the sort of strokes-gained approach numbers of the last two champions, in a way that say Doug Ghim might. Both Rodgers and Hossler rank outside the top 180 for the season and it would be fair to say that at times, good iron play has been the missing piece of the jigsaw for them.
However, where Rodgers is concerned he's improved markedly of late, gaining strokes in three of his last four starts. Alongside this his improvement off the tee is eye-catching: having not ranked inside the top 10 for any event from March 2020 to June 2021, on the back of 13th at the US Open he's been third, third and sixth in his last three starts.
Presumably he's drawn a lot of confidence from this sustained run of world-class driving and with his short-game also operating at a very high level, it's no wonder that he only needed a decent return with his approaches to finish fifth in last week's Barbasol Championship.
Form there in Kentucky needs context — it was a low-strength shootout on an easy course — but this is a similar test and he showed with a bright start last year (66-68 to lie eighth) that it's one he enjoys.
"Yeah, I think this golf course really suits length off the tee and good putting," he said. "These greens are what I grew up putting on and I feel really comfortable and I think it suits good putters. Yeah, I'm able to hit the ball a long way and give myself a lot of opportunities throughout the round."
That point around where he grew up is also worth noting. Rodgers hails from Indiana, and it's rare that he gets an opportunity to tee it up in a neighbouring state. Last week he took advantage with a top-five finish south of home, he finished second to DeChambeau next door to the west in Illinois, and he's played well in a couple of renewals of the Memorial over to the east in Ohio.
This isn't to say that geography or some kind of latitudinal forces are at play. It's that point around grasses, climates, even course aesthetics, as well as the fact he will have friends and family coming over to watch him, all of which can be considered small positives.
Ultimately though I'm keen on the improvement we can trace back to qualifying for the US Open, where for a while he mixed it with the best. That's where Rodgers will still feel like he belongs and going close at this level is the next step along that long road.
Similar comments apply to Hossler, who has been inside the top 25 in four of his last five starts, again a run of improvement which stems from the tee. His approach play is in and out, but he ranked fifth at the Palmetto Championship recently and we should also be able to rely on an excellent short-game, with scope for more from his putter.
Hossler was on course for something like field-leading off-the-tee stats here last year but failed to make the weekend, because his approaches were poor. That however was normal at the time, as he'd missed all four cuts since the June resumption and hadn't done anything good with his irons. A year on, and his improvement is marked.
Hand on heart, for either of these to win I suspect they'll need to putt the lights out. That would not typically be a position I like to take, but at least we've two fabulous putters here and at last they'll step onto the tee with real confidence.
Ghim looks a massive runner and I like the case Dave Tindall makes for him. Unfortunately the price is going and I'll look to 100/1 shot BO HOAG for my idea of an each-way player who really could produce those approach figures that have been necessary here.
Quite simply, he's done it twice in his last three starts. First, Hoag was the best in the field at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, where his short-game went missing. Then, after a perfectly solid effort at the John Deere, he ranked third in the same department in the Barbasol, again failing to capitalise because of the putter.
Nevertheless 11th place was still his best finish since he was 12th here last year. The next? Thirteenth place in the Memorial, and this is all significance because Hoag, who is from Ohio, is another who has shown clear signs that he is more comfortable, more capable, when he's up in this part of the US.
With his sole Korn Ferry Tour win having come in 22-under he does have the skills for a shootout, and though putting is the department in which he's losing strokes this year, on several occasions it's been the reason for a good week, including when 12th on his sole start in this.
Rounds of 65 and 63 suggest Twin Cities is a decent fit and at 125th in FedEx Cup points, he'll see this as the best opportunity he has to lock up a card for the 2021/22 season.
Doing the locals angle to death will no doubt go down well but having put up ERIK VAN ROOYEN at 45/1 here last year I think there are sufficient grounds for giving him another chance at almost three-times the price.
First, he made 10 birdies across the 36 holes and, after I'd published my preview, spoke at length about how familiar he is with the course. Van Rooyen went to college in Minnesota, as did his caddie, and it's where he met his wife whose family are from the area.
"We played this golf course a ton when I went to school here," he said. "Played the back nine yesterday and all those memories came flashing back, so it's really special for me to be here. And like you said, it's somewhat of a homecoming."
That didn't do him much good when he ran up a catastrophic eight at his fifth hole, but van Rooyen played well bar that mishap and struck the ball to a good standard throughout the second round, and indeed for much of the first.
The reason he's 125/1 is a poor run of form, missing three cuts in his last four starts. However, all three were in majors, and only during the second round of the PGA Championship has he really struggled. Otherwise the margins have been particularly fine, and in among this stretch he's both qualified for the US Open, and finished 10th in the Palmetto Championship (three shots behind the winner, compatriot Garrick Higgo).
Put another way it's easy to view his performances in a favourable light and he's certainly capable of outstanding ball-striking, while more recently his putter appears to have come good. It was his approach work and putting which did the heavy lifting at the Palmetto, ranking 12th and 10th respectively.
Interestingly, van Rooyen put that improvement down to a trip to Minnesota, where he "played golf every single day and just put a lot of reps in." Where exactly he played is unknown to me, but it wouldn't surprise anyone were he to admit to a scouting mission to Twin Cities.
The other unknown is whether he and his wife have become parents. They were due a couple of weeks ago, and van Rooyen has subsequently travelled to the UK, but it's easier to take on board this risk in her home state where her family is based, rather than face the prospect of van Rooyen downing tools for a long flight to be with her.
There's plenty to weigh up and he's got to be among the hardest players to price in the field. My view is that he's more capable than most at these odds, and we do only have to rewind a few weeks for a welcome top-10 finish.
My shortlist for this was long, which explains the staking plan. I could summarise the absurdity of the list by saying that Mark Anderson was on it, or that Bronson Burgoon's approach play from 175-200 yards turned my head because of a tweet from Justin Ray, but evidently summarising isn't under 'strengths'.
Anyway, first is BO VAN PELT, another who is from nearby having been born and raised in Indiana. Silly? Maybe, but he twice contended for the Buick Open in Michigan, that's from five starts, his sole (official) win on the PGA Tour came in Wisconsin, some of his best form came at the Memorial, he was second to Tiger Woods in Maryland, and third in the 2010 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
Those are, unequivocally, his best performances, and if you're willing to trawl through the transcripts you'll find that during just about every one of them, he referenced where they were, how comfortable it makes him feel, why the grass types suit him better, and the fact that he gets extra support up here. And the bottom line is this: if he feels like he is a better player in Minnesota than he is in Texas, that's worth something.
Aside from this, he ranked sixth in approach play at the Barbasol last week, finishing 31st having been quiet on the greens. Four starts prior to that he bogeyed the final hole at the Palmetto Championship when par would've been enough to force a play-off with Higgo. Finally, he's seeing results after a long spell on the sidelines, during which he played just eight times from 2016 to 2019.
Now 48, there are echoes of Richard Bland here in that Van Pelt says this is part of his preparation for the Champions Tour. He's desperate to keep hold of his PGA Tour playing rights — right now he's playing on a career money list exemption — and at 152nd in the FedEx Cup standings, he's probably going to need to go close again to achieve that goal.
Here at Twin Cities, he was five years removed from his last top-50 finish on the PGA Tour when teeing up in July, had withdrawn the previous week, and hadn't bettered 68 since the 2015 Wyndham Championship. Considering where he was, the fact he shot 66-68 to open the tournament, sitting eighth at halfway, is a further testament to his ability to raise his game when close to home.
That, or he just likes the place. I'll take either and roll the dice at 300/1.
Finally, NICK WATNEY did just, just enough to merit a small, speculative play at anything that price or bigger when making his second cut in succession last week.
Once a member of the world's top 10 and leader through 54 holes of the PGA Championship 11 years ago, Watney has generally looked lost since his return last summer was ruined by a positive Covid-19 test, the first on the PGA Tour.
The one bright spark came here, when he ranked 11th in approaches and 17th in putting on his way to 12th. His form beforehand read MC-WD-MC and it was a surprise performance which may tell us nothing.
However, combined with improvements in his driving and approach play over the last fortnight, during which he's putted well, it's enough to chance a player who turned 40 in April and might look to the likes of Lucas Glover and find the belief required to have one more crack at this game.
Posted at 1245 BST on 20/07/21
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