Richy Werenski leads the 3M Open; Dustin Johnson WD after 78 years

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BLAINE, Minn. – The virus outbreak has stifled the optimistic and welcoming mood that marked the debut of the 3M Open last year.Fans may have been absent, but the soft greens were very friendly on Thursday for Richy Werenski to take full advantage.

“I have a feeling they will become nice and firm as the week goes on, but you start online, it will stay there. They are really good, ”said Werenski, who hit a little bird putt on par 5 18 for an 8 under 63 and a first round lead.

Dustin Johnson retired with a back injury after a 78.

Roger Sloan of Merritt, BC, David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., And Aaron Crawford of Calgary – who made his way into the 3M Open as a qualifier on Monday – started with 69 seconds to 2 under .

Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., Is back with a 1 over 72.

Werenski broke a tie with Michael Thompson with his ninth and final birdie on the hot and windy afternoon at TPC Twin Cities. Defending champion Matthew Wolff, Tony Finau, Nick Watney, Ryan Moore, Xinjun Zhang and Max Homa were tied for third at 65. There is an 11 point tie behind them at 5 under.

“To play a round like I did today you have to do the putts, but… I feel like my irons have really progressed,” said Werenski, 24, without a PGA win. Tour and ranked 248th in the world.

Werenski has had two unexpected layoffs after finishing 126th in the FedEx Cup standings last year. He broke his wrist in the fall. Then came the pandemic which interrupted the tour this spring.

“The goal at the start of the year was to be in the top 70, and I think I’m just a little freer than I was at the start of the year,” said Werenski. “It makes a difference.”

Thompson, who entered the week in 151st place in the FedEx Cup standings, had a bogey-free round, also thanks to the precision of his short game.

“It’s really just being diligent in playing my own game. I’m not the longest hitter here. I’m a really good putter, so I’m going to rely on that, ”said Thompson.

Johnson’s departure further depleted the power of the star of the second edition of the event which landed just past the Memorial and just before the World Golf Championship and PGA Championship following the forced reshuffle of the schedule by a pandemic. Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood and Finau were the only ones entered in the top 25 of the world rankings. This tournament, like all the others since the resumption of golf, is played without spectators.

Johnson’s victory at the Travelers’ Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut last month did not trigger a post-stoppage surge for the world’s fourth-ranked player. After posting a straight 80s last week at Memorial for the highest 36-hole score of his professional career, Johnson’s first appearance at the 3M Open north of Minneapolis lasted just one round.

At the end of his first nine, Johnson started the 18th hole for 599 yards on dog’s paw with solid practice from the tee. With 209 yards to reach the flag, he used his 6 iron for a shot – “perfect,” he said – that was engulfed in the pond just before the rough.

“Hit him good and I never thought he was going to go in the water,” said Johnson, who mentioned his back in a brief post-round interview.

His next two tries met the same fate. Three penalty strokes later, Johnson finally landed his ball on the green for a tap-in putt and a nine quadruple bogey on the scorecard.

“A bit the same thing last week. I just struggled with my iron game, and that makes it difficult, ”he said.

Watney, who was the first touring player to test positive for coronavirus, at RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, failed to make the cut two weeks ago at the Workday Charity Open in Dublin, Ohio, after two rounds scoring 150.

Watney, 39, who has won five career PGA Tour victories, returned to training basics last week – aiming, balance, posture – as most of his peers played at the Memorial. Having emerged from the anxiety and boredom of midlife, acknowledging that his symptoms were mild, Watney was eager to make his six birdies the focal point of his interview with reporters.

“I’m trying to put that to bed, get past it and hope to play some great golf after failing with that,” Watney said. “It’s great to be here after having had a good lap rather than other things.”

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More AP golf coverage: https://apnews.com/golf



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