At just 20 years of age and teeing up on the big tour for just the fourth time, and just the third time as a professional, Matthew Wolff is a PGA Tour Champion.
It was not the young Oklahoma State product we were expecting at the beginning of the week (Viktor Hovland) or the 20-year-old phenom we were expecting (Joaquin Niemann), but with a 6-under 65, Wolff reached 21-under-par for the week to win the inaugural 3M Open by a single shot.
The fact that he won is impressive enough; he became the first player under 21 to win since Jordan Spieth at the 2013 John Deere Classic, and only four players in PGA Tour history have won their first tournament in fewer starts, but the way he won it was beyond incredible.
With a three-man playoff looking inevitable with five-time Tour winner Bryson DeChambeau and fellow very-young gun Collin Morikawa, who was only making his fourth start as a professional himself, Wolff was standing just off the green on 18, 26 feet from the hole, and decided to just end it right then.
The Southern California native sunk a long-bomb eagle putt, and the rest became history.
It was a stark contrast to what happened a week ago in Michigan.
Also an inaugural event, champion Nate Lashley began Sunday with a six-stroke advantage and nobody came close. This week at TPC Twin Cities, it felt like half the field was in contention. Lashley’s closest competitor at Detroit Country Club finished six shots back. The final 3M Classic leaderboard had 14 players within six strokes of the lead.
The back nine at one point saw six players tied for the lead, but suddenly down the stretch, Wolff and Morikawa – who began the final day tied for the lead with DeChambeau, and played in the final group together, started to separate themselves from the pack.
Wolff played his back nine in 5-under, while Morikawa rebounded from a mediocre start to birdie six of his final eight holes. It appeared one of them would win, until DeChambeau stuck his approach on the par-5 18th with seven feet of the hole, which he knocked in for eagle for a late one-stroke advantage. After Wolff sunk his eagle, Morikawa just barely missed his eagle attempt, as his 25-foot putt missed slightly to the left.
Similar to last week, the biggest names in a largely-weak field were a no-show. Phil Mickelson missed the cut entirely, and appears about ready for the Champions Tour, while Brooks Koepka and Jason Day both finished outside the top-60. DeChambeau, though, was able to emerge from a recent funk to be a part of the story until the very end, providing at least some name recognition to a fairly unremarkable leaderboard.
With the win, Wolff may have just become a big name himself.
Final Leaderboard: Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Matthew Wolff -21 (-6)
2. Bryson DeChambeau -20 (-5)
3. Collin Morikawa -20 (-5)
4. Adam Hadwin -18 (-3)
5. Carlos Ortiz -17 (-7)
5. Wyndham Clark -17 (-3)
7. Lucas Glover -16 (-9)
7. Sam Burns -16 (-7)
7. Brian Harman -16 (-6)
7. Joey Garber -16 (-6)
7. Troy Merritt -16 (-3)
7. Hideki Matsuyama -16 (-3)
13. Viktor Hovland -15
15. Daniel Berger -14
15. Scott Piercy -14
23. Patrick Reed -13
23. Tony Finau -13
23. Joaquin Niemann -13
34. Patton Kizzire -12
46. Keegan Bradley -10
53. Pat Perez -9
58. Tom Lehman -7
65. Brooks Koepka -6
66. Jason Day, Jason Dufner -5
How Matthew Wolff Won The 3M Open
Matthew Wolff turned professional at last month’s Travelers Championship, which was largely overshadowed by college teammate Viktor Hovland doing the exact same thing, except that Hovland was coming off a week where he broke the amateur scoring record held by Jack Nicklaus in finishing T12 at the U.S. Open.
Wolff finished T80 at the Travelers after missing the secondary cut, and then he missed the cut entirely at last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic. After such a rough start (Hovland finished T54 and T13 at those same two events, respectively), clearly, something clicked in the past week.
Wolff opened the 3M with a 2-under 69, which would end up being his worst round of the week. He shot a 67 on Friday, and then surged into the 54-hole co-lead with 9-under 62 that included 10 birdies (six in a row at one point) to tie for the low round of the week.
His front nine on Sunday was nothing special, but with two early birdies, he was able to turn in 1-under, which kept him in the mix. He then birdied No. 10 to remain a threat, and emerged from a logjam with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 14 and 15, the latter of which gave him sole possession of the lead before Morikawa caught him with a birdie on No. 16.
He arrived at the 18th tee box tied with Morikawa and one shot back of DeChambeau. A birdie would force a playoff, while an eagle would end the tournament and change his life. He made the eagle.
For the week, Wolff co-led the field with 26 birdies. His 7 bogeys was 38th in the field, but that is a bit misleading since four of those seven came in the first round. He also led the field for the week in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and strokes gained: total, while finishing second in strokes gained: approach-the-green. He was T31 in driving accuracy, but did well from where his ball did landed, finishing T6 in greens in regulation.
Driving: 303.7 yards (36th)
Fairways: 39/56, 67.9% (31st)
Greens: 60/72, 83.3% (6th)
Putts Per GIR: 98/1.633 (6th)
Strokes Gained Stats:
Off-the-Tee: 0.551 (21st)
Approach-to-Green: 9.450 (2nd)
Around-the-Green: 1.662 (32nd)
Putting: 0.169 (59th)
Tee-to-Green: 3.329 (1st)
Total: 3.498 (1st)
Par-3: -1 (3 Birdies, 11 Pars, 2 Bogeys)
Par-4: -13 (18 Birdies, 21 Pars, 5 Bogeys)
Par-5: -7 (1 Eagle, 5 Birdies, 6 Pars)
Total: -21 (1 Eagle, 26 Birdies, 38 Pars, 7 Bogeys)
What It Means For Wolff
Wolff had been playing sponsor’s exemptions, but will no longer need to go that route to play, as his Tour card is secure for the next two seasons. There was no exemption in this week’s event for The Open Championship, which takes place next week (after this week’s John Deere Classic), but he will be in the field for next year’s Masters, PGA Championship, and THE PLAYERS Championship.
Also, now that he has PGA Tour membership, he qualifies for FedExCup points, and is assured of a spot in next month’s playoffs as well as an auto invite to next year’s Tournament of Champions at Kapalua to kick off 2020.
Having won the NCAA Individual title this year, he joins Ben Crenshaw and Tiger Woods, as the only players to accomplish that feat and win on the PGA Tour in the same calendar year. It does not need to be said, but that is some impressive company. His career trajectory suddenly looks very, very good.
Wolff’s 2019 PGA Tour Season
Missed Cuts: 1
Wins: 1 (3M Open)
Addtl Top 10s/20s: 0/0
Money Earned: $1,164,888 (81st)
FedExCup Pts: 500 (73rd)
World Rank Before/After: 1,659/135
Koepka Nowhere To Be Seen (Again)
Another non-major, another disappointing showing for Brooks Koepka, the man who cannot stop contending on the biggest stages. Koepka very nearly missed the cut in this event entirely, only sneaking into the weekend when Cameron Davis moved the cut line with a triple-bogey disaster on his final Friday hole.
Koepka played well on Saturday with a 4-under 67, but was well off form on Sunday, shooting a 1-over 72 that put him in solo 65th-place for the week. His final seven holes included three birdies and a final-hole eagle, but all those circles were more than cancelled out with three front-nine bogeys and a triple-bogey on 17.
He has now finished T50 or worse in six of his past seven individual non-majors, including his past three non-major starts. For comparison, his past six major starts include three wins and two runner-ups.
Somehow, he needs to find a way to stay motivated in events with lesser stakes.
Despite all the late fireworks the Minnesota crowds were treated to down the stretch, the round of the day was posted early on. Lucas Glover, a former major champion, who is enjoying a resurgent season, birdied six of his first eight holes en route to a 9-under 62, which tied for the week’s lowest round.
Glover rocketed 40 spots up the final leaderboard, landing at T7 and securing his fifth top-10 of the season, and 13th top-25 – the latter of which is more than he posted over the past two seasons, combined.
It was not quite a 62, but a bogey-free 7-under 64 by Carlos Ortiz jumped the Mexican into a share of fifth-place. The finish was a great relief for the 28-year-old, whose last six starts comprised four missed-cuts and two finishes outside the top 50 (T52, T55). More importantly, Ortiz moves from 119th to 95th in the FedExCup Standings, with the top 125 making next month’s playoffs.
Viktor Hovland again was a Sunday story at an inaugural event. A week ago, he shot a final-round 64 to soar up the final leaderboard and finish T13 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. This week, it was a final-round bogey-free 6-under 65, which allowed him to finish, again T13. Given the unbelievable form Hovland has shown recently, it is surprising that Wolff beat him to the Tour winner’s circle, but his time feels very, very close.
For such a well-traveled veteran player, Charles Howell III sure has not played like one the past two weeks. A week ago at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, the 40-year-old (from the Oklahoma State program that is suddenly getting a lot of positive press) got himself into contention by reaching 12-under through the first two rounds, only to post two over-70 rounds on the weekend to plummet to T35.
A week later, Howell again looked shockingly uncomfortable late. Starting the day in a share of sixth-place, and just two strokes off the lead, he shot an even-par 71 that ended up being the worst round of the day of anyone who finished inside the top 45. Howell dropped 17 spots with the poor round, finishing T23.
He ranks a lofty 14th in the FedExCup Standings, but this was just his first start since March with a result inside the top 30.
Joaquin Niemann, the 20-year-old star from Chile, had been red-hot as of late having finished T5 in his last two starts, and there was a lot of chatter that this could be the week that the former amateur No. 1 could notch his first career victory. He was in good shape through three rounds, and was only three strokes off the 54-hole lead, but after sizzling middle rounds of 63 and 65, Niemann did not have his best stuff on Sunday. A final-hole birdie just barely kept him under par, as his 1-under 70 dropped him 14 spots down the leaderboard, into a share of 23rd place.
The biggest dropper of the final day was South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli, a former college teammate and roommate of Jordan Spieth. Frittelli’s 2-over 73 was one of the worst rounds of the day, and plummeted him from T9 to T46 on the final leaderboard.
Needing a big week to get himself a shot at the FedExCup Playoffs, Frittelli looked like was going to post it, but in the end actually lowered his standing from 151st to 153rd.
Tom Lehman, 60, who consulted with Arnold Palmer in the course design of TPC Twin Cities, was a sponsor’s exemption into this week’s field. He impressively opened the event with three rounds in the 60s, but ran out of steam on Sunday, shooting a 2-over 73 to finish T58.
It was still a tremendous week for Lehman, however, who had not teed up in a non-major PGA Tour event in more than three years.
“Decision to Leave College Early”
“It was definitely a hard decision with my team, my family, my agency and everyone. We took a long time for this. I believed I was ready, my game was ready, but that’s a big step going from amateur golf to playing for a living at such a young age. Obviously people like Jordan Spieth and Joaquin, who’s out here, there’s a lot of people out here who have done it at such a young age, but it’s a lot to handle, especially with the quick turnaround, you know, of the sponsors’ exemptions that I was going to get and I really wanted to play Walker Cup.”
– Matthew Wolff, on turning pro at 20.