3M Open Tournament Preview

2021 3M Open Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About TPC Twin Cities Before Tee Off

Where were you the day Michael Thompson out-dueled Richy Werenski to take down the title of 2020 3M Open Champion? I remember it well because for one, it was the first time I’d ever seen a Sunday Final pairing where I’d never heard of either player, and also because I had everyone else who was in contention that week (Max Homa, Tony Finau, and Adam Long) on my card. Womp womp.

This will be the first time the 3M Open has been played the week after The Open, so it remains to be seen what that Major hangover or jet lag fatigue looks like for players like Dustin Johnson, Tony Finau, Louis Oosthuizen, and Patrick Reed who return back straight from Sandwich. In 2019, the next event after The Open was the WGC St. Jude, which Brooks Koepka won immediately following his T4 finish at Royal Portrush, so motivation aside, travel fatigue is likely not enough reason to fade the top players in this field. It is however the week before the Olympics, which means there are no players in the Olympic field who will be teeing it up this week. That means besides those aforementioned top players, there’s a precipitous drop of talent in this field, making it yet another wide open Midwest birdie fest. In any case, there is no PGA Tour event on schedule next week in recognition of the Olympics, so every player in this field should have the 3M Open’s full attention, as they can rest and tune up next week before the WGC St. Jude or Barracuda.

3 weeks ago for the Rocket Mortgage Classic, I looked very closely at players who had strong history at the 3M Open, given that both Midwest birdie fest tracks only just recently joined the PGA Tour circuit in 2019 and favor strong OTT players. We’ve also already seen a 1-2 finish from Bryson DeChambeau and Matthew Wolff at both events in their young history, so looking through the leaderboard at the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic will be a good place to start this week’s research.

The 3M Open has always been about getting yourself in position off the tee to attack pins, while avoiding the many water hazards in play. That means an emphasis on SG: OTT / Good Drives Gained, GIRs Gained, SG: APP, and Birdies or Better Gained. With that said, here’s a look ahead at everything to expect from the 3rd installment of the 3M Open.

TPC Twin Cities Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,431
  • Par: 71 (4x 3’s / 11x 4’s / 3x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bent
  • Architect: Arnold Palmer / Steve Wenzloff
  • Historic Cut Line: -2
  • Comp Courses: Detroit Golf Club, TPC River Highlands, Sherwood CC, Innisbrook (Copperhead), TPC Deere Run, TPC Sawgrass, TPC Scottsdale
  • Past Winners: Michael Thompson (20), Matthew Wolff (19)

The scorecard yardages are pretty arbitrary at TPC Twin Cities, as they’ve got the real estate here to move the tee boxes around day to day as much as any other course on Tour. That flexibility to move tee markers along with the many water hazards in play are what really differentiates this course from other recent birdie fests like the John Deere Classic and Rocket Mortgage Classic, as they’ll be able to scale this course out for more of a challenge, if they choose. The 16th hole for example, is listed on the scorecard as a 411 yard Par 4 but can also play as short as 302 yards, depending on how the crew wants to set it up day by day. That is a microcosm of TPC Twin Cities as a whole. Like most other TPC courses, the layout is very fan-oriented, setting up for many birdie opportunities with surrounding stadium grandstands and drivable Par 4s. But at the same time, every self-respecting tournament host wants to give the field a challenge and avoid becoming a complete birdie-fest, so the flexibility to push the tees back should also help keep the field in check as the tournament committee strikes the balance of fan-friendly action, and imposing challenges for the field. In the words of Tournament founder Hollis Cavner, “We want birdies and train wrecks, and we don’t want to be the hardest golf course on the tour”.

Matthew Wolff won the inaugural 2019 3M Open in one of the most electric closing stretches in recent memory, matching Bryson DeChambeau’s eagle on 18 with another of his own, putting from off the green to take back the solo lead and secure his first career PGA Tour victory as an amateur coming off of an NCAA Championship win the week prior. Wolff is back in the field this week and should feel fresh after opting out of The Open. Michael Thompson is your defending champion, taking an entirely different route to victory. While Wolff’s 13.4 strokes gained T2G masked a lukewarm putting performance (0.7 SG: P), it was Thompson’s flat stick that won it for him in 2020, gaining 7.3 strokes on the greens to overcome a decent 5.9 strokes gained T2G. The one thing Thompson and Wolff did share in common however, was elite iron play, as they each gained over 7 strokes on Approach for the week. Looking ahead to 2021, expect Wolff’s formula of supreme ball striking and accuracy + length off the tee to be the more sustainable marker for success at TPC Twin Cities.

We have a small sample size over just two years of competition here, but Matthew Wolff is the early Course Horse, as he is the only player in the field to record two finished inside the Top 20 with a T12 in 2020 and the win in 2019. Charles Howell III, Tony Finau, Brice Garnett, and Denny McCarthy are the only other players to finish inside the Top 35 each year. Adam Hadwin, Charl Schwartzel, Emiliano Grillo, and Bo Hoag also have a Top 15 here in just one prior appearance.

With limited course history to go off of, it’s a good time to look more closely at performances on recent comp courses to help project success. The Rocket Mortgage Classic, Zozo (2020), Valspar, Travelers, John Deere Classic, WMPO, and THE PLAYERS are each solid comps I’m looking at that put an emphasis on playing out of the fairway to create second shot opportunities. The Top 10 players SG: TOT across these events this season are: Hank Lebioda, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Seamus Power, Brian Harman, Cameron Tringale, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed, Charles Howell III, and Patton Kizzire.

As far as narratives go, it is a Minnesota homecoming for the lone Golden Gopher in the field, Eric van Rooyen. I only know that about the South African thanks to FanShareSports. You can poke around for more granular trends and tidbits like that using their pro tools, and you can get a 20% discount by using the promo code pgatout, if you so please. Or don’t, you know, up to you! Tom Hoge also has ties to the area as a two time Minnesota State Amateur champion and Troy Merritt who went to high school in Minnesota, should also feel at home this week.

Looking at putting specialists this week, Cameron Tringale, Brendon Todd, Patton Kizzire, Kristoffer Ventura, and Johnson Wagner round out the Top 5 putting on Bent Grass L24. We also see a sizeable jump from players like Charles Howell III, Stewart Cink, Roger Sloan, and Lanto Griffin in terms of their Bent putting ranks versus their overall baseline.

Key Stats

  • Recent Form (SG: T2G)
  • SG: APP
  • SG: OTT
  • GIRs Gained
  • Birdies or Better Gained
  • Prox 100-125 / Prox 150-175
  • Par 4 Scoring
  • SG: Putting (Bent)
  • Course & Comp Course History

Stats To Avoid

  • SG: ARG
  • Prox 200+
  • Par 3 Scoring

As far as narrowing in on key stats goes for this week, there’s not much reason to overcomplicate beyond the formula we’ve been using for recent birdie fests. Opportunities Gained, Birdies or Better Gained, and SG: TOT on Easy Scoring courses continue to be important, as will SG: APP and SG: BS to create those birdie opportunities. There are 8 players in the field this week who rank Top 40 in each of those categories: Stewart Cink, Patrick Reed, Louis Oosthuizen, Seamus Power, Jhonattan Vegas, Joel Dahmen, Chris Kirk, and Sergio Garcia.

The correlation charts don’t have a significant sample size behind them this week with just two prior 3M Opens to go off of, but they do show a sizeable jump in the importance of Birdies or Better Gained, P4 350-400, and P5: 550-600, which jump to #1, #9, and #10 in importance respectively. There are at least 5 holes playing in the ranges of 350-400 or 550-600 this week, and could be more depending on how much the tees shift around. The only 6 players to rank inside the Top 30 scoring in each of these hole ranges are Cameron Tringale, Pat Perez, Dustin Johnson, KH Lee, Brandon Hagy, and Joseph Bramlett. KH Lee borders on must-play territory as he’s made the cut in all 5 of his starts on TPC courses this year, including a win at the Byron Nelson, T2 at the WMPO, and a T23 at the Valero Texas Open.

In terms of stats to fade this week, I will continue to neglect SG: ARG as I normally do at birdie fests and bank on a majority of the field reaching these greens in regulation at a higher-than-tour-average percentage. We’ve also historically seen fewer approaches from 200+ here, and less of a need to score on the Par 3s than Tour Average.

Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT
Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT at the 3M Open

Taking the Top 10 Correlated Stat categories for this week at the 3M Open, there are 9 players who rate out above average in all ten: Louis Oosthuizen, Maverick McNealy, Stewart Cink, Charl Schwartzel, Jhonattan Vegas, Bubba Watson, Steve Stricker, Ben Martin, and Erik van Rooyen

Spotlight: Jhonattan Vegas

Jhonattan Vegas balances tour life with real-world worries back home in  Venezuela | Golf News and Tour Information | Golf Digest

I loved Jhonattan Vegas at TPC Deere Run for the John Deere Classic two weeks ago, and that was in spite of the fact that that course often takes his strength of driver out of your hands off the tee to position yourself for your second shot approaches. Two weeks later, we remain on a TPC birdie-fest second shot course with several drivable Par 4s, and add on a new wrinkle of SG: OTT importance to create birdie opportunities on Par 5s with added distance and avoid trouble from the many water hazards throughout the course.

Vegas is less of a sleeper now than he was two weeks ago following his T11 finish at the John Deere Classic, but despite that being his third T11 or better finish in his last 5 starts, I think we’ll still see numbers floating around 50/1 for him, as people sparingly run to the window to play Jhonattan Vegas.

Vegas is #1 in the field SG: OTT L24 rounds, and that comes despite him losing half a stroke OTT at the John Deere Classic, where he was forced to keep the driver in the bag for many holes. Now that he’ll have the freedom to let loose at TPC Twin Cities, we should expect him to continue on his path of driving dominance. In addition to the top marks OTT, Vegas is also surprisingly #1 GIRs Gained, one of the most important indicators for success at the 3M Open, he’s #2 SG: BS, and #3 SG: TOT on Easy Scoring courses. Vegas also ranks inside the Top 25 in this field in SG: APP, Par 4 Scoring, Opportunities Gained, and BoB Gained.

While known as a liability on the greens, Vegas’ best putting surface is Bent grass, where he ranks 51st in the field versus his overall rank of 102nd SG: P. He looked great on Bent last we saw him at the John Deere Classic, gaining 3.2 strokes putting, and again at the Byron Nelson 5 starts ago at TPC Craig Ranch where he gained another 1.5 strokes. He has found something with his irons lately, as he has gained 2+ strokes on approach in 4 of his last 5 starts. I’ll be looking to hop on an outright early on Jhonattan Vegas this week as he is amongst the top of the field in seemingly every key category I’m looking at.

What To Look Out For at the 2021 3M Open

We’ve seen two polar opposite outcomes at the 3M Open in it’s first two years. The first year was an exciting slugfest between some of the game’s most exciting young stars in Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa, and Bryson DeChambeau, who each stayed atop the leaderboard as a credit to their elite ball striking, and above average putting. In the following year, journeyman Michael Thompson rode his scorching hot putter and irons to a comfortable, anti-climatic victory in front of no fans. While birdie-fests do often turn into putting contests, there’s enough trouble off the tee at TPC Twin Cities to favor the best ball strikers with the ability to get a hot putter to contend here, so I’m expecting to see a leaderboard more similar to what we saw in 2019 than 2020.

With all the course fit profiles in mind this week, I’m leaning early towards the below player pool, broken out by projected pricing/odds tier.

This week, I’m putting a premium on SG: APP, SG: OTT, SG: BS, Good Drives Gained, and SG: TOT – Easy Courses, followed by a steady mix of Par 4 Scoring, Opportunities + BoB Gained, GIRs Gained, and SG: P (TOT + Bent). The #1 player in my model was Jason Kokrak, and I was prepared to bet him somewhere in the 20s this week before he WD’d on Saturday. So instead the #1 honors go to Spotlight star, Jhonattan Vegas. The rest of my model’s Top 10 is rounded out by Hank Lebioda, Louis Oosthuizen, Maverick McNealy, Keegan Bradley, Stewart Cink, Seamus Power, Emiliano Grillo, Sergio Garcia, and Patrick Reed.