BLAINE, Minn. — Lee Hodges is pulling a Brian Harman.
Last week, Harman led by five shots after 54 holes in his triumph at the British Open. This week, it’s a completely different set of circumstances, but Hodges’ lead is five with 18 holes to play.
The second-year Tour pro has played flawless golf and led after every round of the 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities. Coming into the week on the outside of the FedEx Cup Playoffs bubble, Hodges needed a big week to punch his ticket in the field at the FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis. He’s doing just that.
Although it may be a big lead, a reminder: last year in Minnesota, Scott Piercy led by four after three rounds and was up by that many on the back nine and lost.
Here’s everything you need to know from the third round of the 3M Open.
Off to the races
Hodges has no PGA Tour victories or runner-up finishes in his career. He was 74th in the FedEx Cup standings coming into the 3M Open.
He also could go wire-to-wire in dominant fashion.
Hodges had his worst round of the week Saturday and still increased his lead. He shot 5-under 66 on the heels of an opening 63, his second-best Tour round ever, and a 64 on Friday to sit at 20 under heading to the final round. Hodges’ 36-hole mark of 15 under was the lowest in tournament history, and his third-round total of 193 is also the fewest strokes after 54 holes.
“We’ve been aggressive just because the greens have been soft, but we just made a real conscious effort this week to commit to every shot we’ve hit and not get ahead of ourselves,” Hodges said. “I mean, when I’m walking down the fairway, all I’m thinking about is the next shot I’m going to hit. I’ve done a really good job of not getting ahead of myself, and I think I will tomorrow, as well. Yeah, we’ve just really, really stuck to our process this week.”
The five-stroke advantage heading into the final round is one behind the largest on Tour this season.
Hodges had his first bogey of the week on the second, but he bounced back with consecutive birdies on Nos. 5-6 before another bogey on the ninth, turning in even-par. Then he caught fire on the back nine, birdieing three of his first four holes, adding another on the drivable par-4 16th and a final one on the par-5 18th.
All week long, Hodges has talked about having nothing to lose coming into the week. He’s excited for the challenge of trying to win his first Tour event.
“I honestly don’t think I’ll be that nervous tonight,” Hodges said. “I’ll hang out with my wife, we’ll go do something fun. I mean, yeah, it’s just golf at the end of the day. I’m lucky to be here.”
Defending champion in similar position to last year
Finau has been in this position before. Quite literally, it happened at last year’s tournament in his come-from-behind victory.
He’ll have to do the same Sunday if he wants to repeat. Finau shot 4-under 67 on Saturday, that coming on the heels of consecutive 66s to open. He had four birdies on the back nine, where he’s 13 under on the week.
“I’m not sure, I can’t really put my finger on it,” Finau said of his back-nine dominance. “I think obviously I have some good vibes probably from last year continuing right into this year. If there’s a side that I want to play well on, it’s probably going to be on the back nine. I’m going to have to play good on both the front and the back tomorrow and hopefully we’ll continue that good play on the back tomorrow.”
Finau is 14 under for the week, solo third and one behind J.T. Poston, who played with Finau on moving day and carded a third straight 66. Poston had five birdies and no bogeys on Moving Day as he, too, looks to improve his position in the FedEx Cup standings heading into the playoffs. Poston came into the week No. 60.
He knows he’ll have to do a bit better than 5 under on Sunday, but his game plan isn’t changing.
“I’ve got good control of the golf ball, and I’ve hit a lot of good quality shots,” Poston said. “The first day I putted it really well and made a lot of good putts, but it was playing really tough that day. I think with the easier conditions, if I can putt it like I did that first day and hit it like I have been, then I could probably steal a few more and shoot 7-, 8-, maybe 9-under par. I don’t think I’ll change anything. I’m hitting it good, I’m hitting a lot of greens and that’s all I’m really asking is try and get the putter hot.”
Aaron Baddeley trying to continue resurgance
Aaron Baddeley had to Monday qualify to get into his first event of the year, the Fortinet Championship. His next start a month later, he tied for sixth.
Baddeley has status on Tour this year thanks to him being a past champion, a four-time winner but not since 2016. He came into the week sitting 109th in the FedEx Cup standings.
He heads into the final round near the top of the leaderboard.
Baddeley has gotten better every day this week, starting with a 69 on Thursday before rounds of 66 on Friday and 65 on Moving Day. He had a bogey on the par-4 second hole Saturday but rebounded with seven birdies and is in position for his best finish of the year.
“It’s a little bit like a four-day qualifier for next week,” Baddeley said. “If I can play well enough to finish top-10, that gets me into next week for sure. Really just trying to play — I mean, I feel like I’ve been playing well. I know I’ve missed a couple of cuts these last few events, but I feel it hasn’t reflected on how I’ve been playing. This week is just coming in, trying to do my thing, just keep playing the way I’ve been playing and try to make a few of those putts to capitalize.”
Baddeley had missed four of his past five cuts coming into the week. Perhaps his good luck charm is his entire family is with him this week.
His wife and all six kids made the trip to the Twin Cities, and the little ones even crashed his post-round interview with CBS Sports’ Amanda Renner.
“It’s the best having the family here. And we’ve also got really close family friends that live just a little south of the city, it’s great to have them here and seeing them as well,” Baddeley said. “It’s been a fantastic week.”
Pair of 29s
Kevin Yu and Sam Ryder each went low on Saturday.
Yu shot a 29 on the front nine, carding six birdies. He was 8 under thru 11 holes with a five-foot birdie putt on the 12th to make seven straight birdies and move to 9 under for the day, but he missed and his round unraveled.
Unfortunately, Yu bogeyed four of the final six holes, signing for a 4-under 67 to move to 10 under for the tournament, putting him T-10.
Meanwhile, Ryder made the turn at 1-over 36 after a double bogey on the par-4 ninth. Then he caught fire, birdieing Nos. 10 and 11 before rattling off five straight from 14-18. Seven birdies, 7-under 29 on the back nine to get into the clubhouse at 12 under. He’s tied for fifth heading to Sunday.
JT makes an appearance
Justin Thomas was at TPC Twin Cities on Saturday, even though he missed the cut Friday.
Thomas spent a couple hours on the range Saturday afternoon, even getting together with amateur Preston Summerhays for some chipping contests for the better part of an hour. Summerhays was playing on a sponsor exemption and shot 3 under after 36 holes, missing the cut by one.
Jim “Bones” Mackay, Thomas’ caddie, wasn’t there. Neither was his coach. Just Thomas with nearly 100 fans watching him as he went through a range session.
Missing five cuts in his last seven starts, Thomas heads to next week’s Wyndham Championship needing a strong finish to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs and try to secure a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup.
Justin Thomas is out here getting some practice in at TPC Twin Cities as the leaders walk by behind him. Speaking with Boyd Summerhays right now pic.twitter.com/6CQqITwaRH
— Cameron Jourdan (@Cam_Jourdan) July 29, 2023