Holds 5-shot lead going into Sunday
Just when things we looking a little bit dicey Saturday, Ardmore’s Lee Hodges found his putting stroke and with it, a five-shot lead heading into the final round of the 3M Open in Blaine, Minnesota.
Lee Hodges, who plays and lives at Canebrake in Athens, is trying to go wire-to-wire for his first professional victory since winning on the Korn Ferry Tour at the Winco Foods Portland Open in 2020.
After shooting 63-64 on the TPC Twin Cities course to lead by four shots going into the third round, Hodges found himself even par through nine holes Saturday.
With J.T. Poston, Tony Finau and a host of other players in the hunt, Hodges turned it up on the back nine, shooting 5-under 31 to cap a 66. Instead of falling back, he increased his lead by one shot with 18 holes to play. He’s 20-under through 54 holes, five shots ahead of Poston and six ahead of Finau, the defending champion.
“I didn’t think I played that bad on the front nine,” Hodges said. “I just couldn’t really get it close to the hole. When I did, I couldn’t read the putt.”
Lee Hodges made two birdies and two bogeys on the front nine. He turned things around with three birdies in the first four holes on the back nine and capped the 31 with a birdie on the 18th hole.
“On the back I hit a lot of really good shots,” he said. “Putter got going, which was nice. I knew it would if I just kept hitting putts. I’ve been rolling it so nice.”
It’s definitely been a great week on the greens for Hodges, who is third in the field in strokes gained putting at 2.192. He attributes it to a new approach to reading greens.
“Me and my coach, Marcus Potter, have been putting a lot of work in,” he said. “We’ve got this new green-reading system that we have been using and it’s been great on greens like this where there’s a little bit of slope around the cups and you’ve got to kind of see it in there,” Hodges said after the second round. “It’s been working really great for us.”
Using new greens-reading strategy
Hodges, who played collegiately at UAB and the University of Alabama, has been using the system for about two months. He said it is Ralph Bauer’s system.
“You just kind of feel the slope in your feet and it’s kind of like almost a little bit of math involved, but it is super simple,” he said. “I have a hard time doing this with AimPoint because I feel like I would be off. Just being able to get a quick number like that has been really good. And I’ve trusted it and it has been paying off.”
Hodges said he can’t remember ever having a five-shot lead in a tournament.
“Maybe not even in junior golf,” he said. “It’s going to be hard (Sunday). There’s unbelievable golfers behind me. Not like I can go out and shoot even par. I have to keep making birdies. I’m just going to stay aggressive like I have been.”
Hodges, in his second year on the PGA Tour, came into the 3M Open needed a good week to move into the Top 70 in the FedEx standings and qualify for the upcoming playoffs. A win Sunday would project him up to 33rd on the FedEx points list and safely in.
It’s been a little bit of an up-and-down season for Hodges, who has made 14 of 29 cuts, including three of the past four. But he said his game hasn’t been off by much.
“It’s not like I have been way off,” he said. “I’ve been playing some really good golf. Me and my whole team have been saying we’re not that far off.”
Lee Hodges: ‘I’m here playing with house money’
He said he wasn’t going to stress overnight about sleeping on a five-shot lead.
“I have nothing to lose,” he said. “I’m out here playing with house money. I have a job next year on the PGA Tour. This is all great. This is just icing on the cake.”
So, no nerves?
“I honestly don’t think I’ll be that nervous tonight,” he said. “I’ll hang out with my wife and we’ll go do something fun. I mean, it’s just golf at the end of the day. I’m lucky to be here.”
Hodges will be trying to hold off Poston, who has shot three straight rounds of 66. Poston said if he can’t win, he hopes Hodges does.
“We definitely have been paired together out here,” Poston said. “It’s been a while. But he’s a good buddy, we play some practice rounds together and I know him really well. He’s a good friend.”
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
Featured image: Screen grab for CBS Sports