Lee Hodges plays his shot from the second tee during the third round of the 3M Open. Stacy Revere
If you’re vying for your first PGA Tour title, a five-stroke lead has to afford you a relative feeling of comfort. Perhaps that’s one reason why Lee Hodges doesn’t expect to be overly nervous heading into Sunday’s final round of the 3M Open.
It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s playing the best golf of his young career. He’s definitely playing the best golf this event has ever seen.
Hodges doesn’t have the penultimate event of the tour’s regular season sewn up just yet, but the golf he has stitched together through 54 holes at TPC Twin Cities makes for a swell security blanket. With five birdies on his inward nine, Hodges carded a third-round five-under 66 and continued to stretch his lead over the competition in Blaine, Minnesota.
At 20-under 193, Hodges eclipsed the previous tournament 54-hole record of 195 that Scott Piercy set a year ago. JT Poston is the closest pursuer at 198 after a 66, while defending champion Tony Finau is another stroke back following a 67.
It’s probably worth noting that Finau erased a five-stroke deficit last year during a wind-swept final round. So danger lurks. But who is more dangerous than a guy who has converted 22 birdies and leads the field in strokes gained/total at plus 10.180?
No wonder Hodges, 28, shrugged when asked about the pressure he’ll face. Will he be OK sleeping on the lead for the third night in a row?
“I honestly don’t think I’ll be that nervous tonight,” said the Alabama native, who is 74th in the FedEx Cup standings and ranked 110th in the world. “I’ll hang out with my wife; we’ll go do something fun. I mean, yeah, it’s just golf at the end of the day. I’m lucky to be here.”
The tournament record is 21-under, so Hodges has been more than lucky. He can’t recall ever having a lead as large as the one he currently enjoys — “not even in junior golf,” he said.
Even with that, he promised to stay aggressive. “I’m not going to try and make pars because pars aren’t going to get it done tomorrow. I’m going to have to keep making birdies,” said Hodges, who holds his second 54-hole lead of the season. He was the 54-hole co-leader at The American Express in January before ending up T-3.
“I have nothing to lose,” he added, furthering the notion that he won’t be tentative in the final round. “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.”