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3M Open Preview: 'We're Going To See A Different TPC Twin Cities,' Says CBS Sports' Dottie Pepper

(CBS Minnesota) -- This year's 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities is sandwiched between the Open Championship in England and the men's Olympic golf competition in Japan. Yet many of the PGA Tour's best are making the trip to Blaine, Minnesota for the third instance of the tournament. That includes second-ranked Dustin Johnson and ninth-ranked Louis Oosthuizen. The 2019 and 2020 3M Open were birdie-fests, and this year's has the potential to be as well.

Michael Thompson is the defending champion, shooting a 19-under 265 last year to beat out Adam Long by two strokes. Matthew Wolff, who was the defending champion last year, was also in striking distance before his six-stroke bogey on the final hole. Wolff won the inaugural 3M Open in 2019 with a blazing 21-under 263, edging out Bryson DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa. Both Thompson and Wolff, who returns to the PGA Tour after a two-month break, will look to add another title to their resume.

Johnson was the world's top player as recently as last week. While he tied for eighth at the Open Championship, Jon Rahm tied for third. That was all it took for the two to switch places. It was also only his second top-10 finish since February, when he tied for eighth at the Genesis Invitational. Johnson hasn't won since the November Masters. A back injury forced him to withdraw from last year's 3M Open after one round.

"He did not play well here last year," according CBS Sports on-course reporter Dottie Pepper. "But I think having given some him some experience and not seeing it for the first time will help. He does have some momentum after last week, finally breaking through the top 10."

Oosthuizen has played exceptionally well the last few months. He's placed in the top 10 in five of his last six events, dating back to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. That run has included a tie for second at the PGA Championship, second place at the U.S. Open and a tie for third at the Open Championship.

"He is starting to putt better," Pepper observed. "He's always been a phenomenal ball-striker, good driver of the golf ball. But things started to turn around for him when we were in New Orleans at the Zurich Classic. Granted, he had a partner. But things really started to turn in the right direction for him. The putter has been the big, big difference."

Johnson, Oosthuizen, and the rest of the 156-man field will face a TPC Twin Cities course that once was a sod farm. The par-71, 7,431-yard links course, framed by grand oaks, spruce and pines, flows through the prairie and hilly terrain of the Minnesota countryside. Small lakes dot the layout, where water is a factor on most holes. The three par-5s all approach 600 yards in length. Despite the water and the length, TPC Twin Cities has allowed its fair share of birdies the first two years.

"I think it was soft and gave up most of the scores because of the conditions," Pepper said. "We had a lot of rain in the first couple of times around. The golf course was extremely soft. This is a hot, dry forecast for the week, so I think we're going to see a different TPC Twin Cities. Going out there shooting darts the way they did in the last two years is not going to necessarily be the case."

Half of Minnesota is experiencing a drought, and dry conditions can make for a firmer course. But the course's groundskeepers have assured that the TPC Twin Cities will be in prime condition, thanks to a mild winter, a dry spring, and a recent touch of rain.

The course eases players in with a relatively short par-4 that offers plenty of birdie chances. At 593 yards, the par-5 sixth hole is a double dogleg leading to a wide putting green. The seventh hole, nicknamed "Tom's Thumb," is a 372-yard par-4, that could see some eagles, despite the new pushed-back tee. The ninth hole is a long par-4 at 489 yards, but tends to not play up to that distance thanks to the wind. The treacherous green slopes toward a lake on the right. The par-4 14th hole, measuring 415 yards, doglegs left around Cavner's Cove.

"The TPC Twin Cities had the second-most approach shots hit by the field from 175 to 200 yards of any course on Tour in 2019 and 2020," Pepper pointed out. "It's not an easy golf course. They have to lay up in some spots to avoid where the bunkers pinch in. And there's a decent amount of water on the golf course as well. So, if that's the situation again this year, with longer shots coming in as hard and fast, I don't think you're going to see these super-low scores [like] the first two times this event was played."

The area is expecting partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid to high 90s for the tournament. Rain is not in the forecast.

Here are the favorites:

Dustin Johnson (7-1)

Johnson isn't turning in top-10 finishes week in and week out, but he has played better of late. He has four consecutive top-25 showings, including a tie for eighth at the Open Championship. Eight strokes off the lead was probably not the redemption he was seeking. But a win at the 3M Open could restore him to number one. Johnson withdrew from his only appearance at TPC Twin Cities due to a back injury.

Tony Finau (14-1)

Finau, ranked 19th in the world, came in third in last year's 3M Open, as part of a group that was three strokes off the pace. He's found limited success this season, including top-10 finishes at the Masters and PGA Championship, but has also missed two of his last three cuts. Finau hasn't won in five years, but this TPC Twin Cities course suits his game.

Louis Oosthuizen (14-1)

Oosthuizen has climbed 13 spots in the rankings since the start of the year. He's been on fire since late April, making the top three in three different majors. But his success hasn't led to another PGA Tour win. Oosthuizen has just only one Tour victory, which came 11 years ago at the Open Championship. He has never played at TPC Twin Cities.

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