On the 18th hole at TPC Twin Cities, Michael Thompson faced a critical decision.
Having already hit his tee shot into the water lining the right side of the dogleg-right par 5, Thompson, leading by one stroke, dropped and had 267 yards to the flag. Should he go for the glory or lay up and try to minimize his mistake? Thompson’s caddie Damian Lopez had a pretty good idea what he should do and let him know.
“It’s time to step up.”
After all, TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota is an Arnold Palmer designed course, and The King would certainly say to go for broke. Thompson did just that, ripping an adrenaline-laden fairway wood over the water and on to the green, but it had too much juice and caught the back bunker. But Thompson splashed to within inches of the hole for a tap-in par and a share of the 54-hole lead with Richy Werenski, who made birdie. Afterwards, Thompson put into words how big that shot was for his confidence going into Sunday’s final round.
“There’s plenty of shots out here on Tour, especially this golf course with the water, where you just need to I like to say,’Just sack up and hit the shot.’ To be able to do that, hit a good, quality golf shot that almost held the green and then to get that up and down with that bunker shot, I mean, I’m honestly just proud of myself for stepping up,” he said.
Despite conceding that he fought some early nerves, Thompson strung together three birdies in a row, starting at the fifth and when he made a two-putt birdie at the par-5 12th hole, he owned a four-stroke lead. And yet by the time he opted to go for the green at 18 with his third shot (after a one-stroke penalty for hitting into the water), Thompson’s lead was on the verge of vanishing. His lone bogey of the day at 17 en route to shooting 3-under 68 combined with three birdies in the final four holes by Werenski has the two 36-hole leaders knotted again at 15-under 198.
“To finish with that par on 18 is huge,” said Thompson, who celebrated with a fist pump. “I really wanted that par, I didn’t want to compound the mistake I made on 17. I think that’s going to bode well for me tomorrow.”
Sunday is setting up for a sprint to the finish line with 12 golfers within four strokes of the lead. Werenski, 28, is bidding for his maiden PGA Tour title while Thompson, 35, won his lone title seven years ago at the Honda Classic. Tony Finau (69) and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel (66) are the closest pursuers, two strokes behind. Finau, who fired his caddie this week and has swing instructor Boyd Summerhays on the bag, has just one victory to his credit at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open and has the most top-eight finishes with 24 of any player without a win on Tour in the last four seasons. It’s time for him to “step up” on Sunday.
“I think I’ve been a little slow out of the box in some of my round 4s,” Finau conceded. “I think if I get off to a good start, get some momentum, I’ve got the ability to put the gas on the pedal and make some birdies.”
Schwartzel, a 35-year-old South African, has two career Tour victories and is returning from a wrist injury that sidelined him much for much of last season.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance,” Schwartzel said. “That really was the goal coming into this week, at least have a chance to win.”
Max Homa, whose lone win came at the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship, is solo fifth at 12-under par after 64. Cameron Tringale did one better, shooting a tournament-best 8-under 63 and is part of a six-way tie at 11 under. Of the 12 players within four strokes of the lead heading into the final round, only Ryan Moore and Nick Watney with five wins apiece have hoisted a trophy more than two times on the Tour. For Thompson, the 3M Open is the first time he has led or shared the lead entering the final round since his victory in 2013.
“I haven’t been in this position in a long time,” Thompson said. “It was nice to get my feet wet.”
Last year, it took an eagle at the 72nd hole for Matthew Wolff to win the inaugural 3M Open. Whoever is going to claim the title this year will, in the words of Lopez, have to “step up.”