Monday, July 31, 2023

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‘A dream week’: Lee Hodges

 Lee Hodges blew away the field on Sunday at the 3M Open.


What’s in the water in pro golf?

A week after Brian Harman’s stunning six-stroke win at the Open Championship, fellow southerner Lee Hodges delivered one of the most lopsided wins of the year at the 3M Open, blowing away the field at TPC Twin Cities to win by seven strokes.

Hodges captured his first PGA Tour win at the 3M, securing not only a career-defining victory but also an invitation into next year’s Masters, the first trip to Augusta of his professional career. That news likely came as doubly exciting to back home at Canebrake Country Club in Athens, Ala., where more than 100 of Hodges’ friends and family members gathered to see their native son capture the most significant victory of his life to date.

“This has been a dream week,” he said. “I’ve got the best everybody and they work so hard. I couldn’t do it without them. Man, I’m just happy everybody’s here and everybody back home is going insane.”

The Winner: Lee Hodges, 24-under (seven-stroke victory)

How he did it: Perhaps the better question is, how couldn’t he do it? Hodges steamrolled the competition at TPC Twin Cities all week, going wire-to-wire in his victory, the first in 3M Open history. The closest anyone got to challenging him on Sunday was when JT Poston climbed within four strokes to get to 20 under par. Still, with Hodges at a healthy -24, there was never much to worry about.

He won by seven strokes, but that was as close as the tournament got at any point on Sunday afternoon. Not bad for a first-time winner sleeping on a 54-hole lead.

No regrets $260,000

 The 72nd hole of the 3M Open was quite costly for J.T. Poston.

Poston, a two-time PGA Tour winner, arrived at the par-5 18th hole three strokes behind his playing partner Lee Hodges. With three strokes between himself and the leader, his chances of winning the event were slim — but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to go down swinging.

After Hodges hit his ball into the left rough, Poston stepped to the tee and flared his ball to the right, inside the hazard line but still outside the water. With 220 yards to the hole, Poston opted not to lay up and instead took dead aim at the flag.

The shot never had a chance. With the ball below his feet, Poston’s shot came out low, failing to carry the hazard and bouncing off the rocks lining the shoreline.

With a three-stroke cushion between himself and the duo in third place, Poston could afford to drop a couple shots and still maintain his runner-up finish. But after the water ball, Poston committed a cardinal sin and followed one mistake with another.

After his drop, Poston laid up just inside 100 yards, needing to hit his wedge on the green and two-putt for a solo second finish. But his wedge approach came up short of the green. He then took three putts to get home, tapping in for a triple-bogey 8 that dropped him into a three-way tie for second.

With a solo second finish, Poston would have earned $850,000. But with the three-way tie for second, his earnings were reduced to $590,200 — still a tidy payday but a difference of nearly $260,000 from what he could have made.

Poston said he didn’t have any regrets about the final hole played out.

“At the end of the day it’s not the way I wanted to end, but I had to try and give it a shot and see if there was some way I could make 3 there at the end and put some pressure on Lee,” Poston said. “It was a shot that was going to be hard to pull off, but we weren’t playing for second place. I had to give it a shot.”

The T2 finish is Poston’s best on the PGA Tour this season, and his best finish since winning the John Deere Classic last summer.

“We were trying to do something special and try and win,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be sleeping tonight wondering, ‘What if if I had just laid it up instead of trying to go for it.’ No regrets on the decision. You know, tried to do what we could to win.”