3M Open: 5 golfers to cheer on

Amid some blistering heat, the PGA Tour is back in Minnesota for another edition of the 3M Open.

Coming a week after The Open Championship and on a downshift of the PGA Tour regular season before the playoffs, the 3M Open may not draw the strongest field in golf, but it does bring in some names.

If you're heading out to Blaine this weekend to check out the action, here are some golfers you can cheer on.

The reigning champion

Tony Finau won the 3M Open last year in spectacular fashion, making a comeback being five strokes back to win by three strokes.

Finau is one of the most talented golfers in the world and a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, including two wins already this year.

Along with his talents, he holds another title: The nicest guy in golf. He finished first in a Golf Digest survey among PGA players for the nicest guy on tour.

On the course, Finau always seems to have a smile on his face. After winning the Mexico Open earlier this year, rather than going out to celebrate in the resort town after winning a million-dollar prize, Finau instead returned to a golf course. Not to practice, but instead to caddy and play a round with his kids on a local par 3 course.

"This guy just won four hours ago @MexicoOpenGolf and is back out on the par-3 course caddying for his kids," wrote PGA Tour official Sharon Shin in a viral tweet capturing the round. "Tony Finau is one of a kind."

Family is always important for the Salt Lake City-borne player of Polynesian descent. He learned the game from his dad, who wasn't a golfer himself but a Delta baggage handler. Finau got his first practice with a 75-cent six-iron that he practiced with in his garage.

Always humble, fellow players seemingly have nothing but good things to say about Finau -- even when he beats them.

"If you don't like Tony Finau, there's something seriously wrong with you," said golf star Jon Rahm in 2021, after Finau beat him at The Northern Trust.

Finau will tee off at Hole 10 at 7:29 a.m. on Thursday with 2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and two-time PGA Tour winner Sepp Straka. On Friday, the group will tee off at 12:54 p.m. from Hole 1.

No weeks off

If Tony Finau is the nicest guy in golf, Sungjae Im may be the hardest-working golfer.

Since getting on the tour in 2018, by far, no one has played more rounds of golf than Sungjae Im (532). Despite being the 23rd-best golfer in the world, Im plays with the work ethic of a guy who's fighting to keep his tour card.

When most top players would have taken a week off this year between the elevated-event Wells Fargo Championship and the PGA Championship, Im flew home to Korea to compete in a KPGA event -- which he won. This year, he's taken it "easy" only playing in 24 PGA Tour events so far -- compared to 35 events in his rookie year.

Along with being hardworking, he's also pragmatic. When asked what he might do, if he won the $15 million prize for Tour Championship in 2020 (he was one stroke off the lead entering Sunday), Im told Golf.com simply: "I would buy a house in the United States and save so that I can live a comfortable life in the future."

Would he take more weeks off? Im said "no" rather he'd "keep playing more."

Outside of golf, Im is a foodie and barbeque connoisseur. If he ever wins the Masters, he dreams of serving up some Korean BBQ at the Masters champions' dinner.

Finally, nothing will bring you more joy than watching Sungjae doubling over with laughter after watching his father's iron shot at the Par 3 contest at the Masters.

Im will tee off with rookie Vincent Normann and Canadian Mackenzie Hughes at 7:40 a.m. on Hole 10 for Thursday and at Hole 1 at 1:05 p.m. on Friday.

The star

The biggest name in the field this week will no doubt be Justin Thomas.

With 15 wins, two PGA Championships and two Ryder Cup selections, Thomas is one of the most accomplished players on the Tour. This season, however, the former world number-one player has struggled.

If it were a normal year for him, Thomas likely wouldn't be making the trip from The Open Championship outside of Liverpool, England to TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota. However, this year, Thomas sits outside the FedExCup playoff rankings.

Currently, he is 75th in the rankings and only the top 70 qualify for the playoffs.

Thomas is struggling both with his ball-striking and the short game. This year, he is losing .32 strokes putting to the field on the year. Thomas has never been a star putter but it's his worse putting season since 2012. At the same time, his ball-striking numbers (off-the-tee and approach combined) have been solid but not up to Thomas's typical top quality, only gaining .51 strokes to the field on the year, well below his average for the last six years.

That's left Thomas with no wins on the season and only three Top 10s. If he finishes the season without a win, it will be the first time since 2015-16 that Thomas hasn't won at least one event.

Recently, the slump has gotten worse, with Thomas missing the cut in four of his last six events – including an awful showing at the U.S Open where he shot 14 over par including an 81 on Friday. Last week at the Open, he was 11 over par including an 82 on Thursday.

Injuries may have played a role in Thomas' struggles, as he was sporting a wrist bandage during The Open. Speaking this week, Thomas said the wrap was just to help with some soreness.

He'll come to the 3M Open looking to find his form and earn some FedExCup points. A win would catapult Thomas from outside the playoffs to in a position to qualify for the BMW Championship, the second playoff event.

Thomas will play with Joel Dahmen and Gary Woodland. The group tees off at Hole 1 on Thursday at 12:54 p.m. and at Hole 10 on Friday at 7:29 a.m.

The former Gopher

Erik van Rooyen is a South African native who played at the University of Minnesota.

He spent four years in Minnesota between 2009 and 2013, majoring in business while playing on the golf team for all four years. In his senior year, he accrued six top-10 finishes and finished 2nd in the Big Ten Championship.

As a pro, he has four wins, including one on the PGA Tour at the Barracuda Championship in 2021. This season, he has three top 10s and is 127th in the FedExCup rankings in his tenth year since turning pro.

He has also represented his native South Africa in the World Cup in 2018.

The caddy

Not only will van Rooyen be in the field this week, but so won't his caddy.

Alex Gaugert qualified to play in the 3M Open after making it through the Monday qualifier, a weekly tournament that gives players and amateurs a chance to qualify for an event.

Gaugert is a former teammate of van Rooyen's at the University of Minnesota and has been caddying for van Rooyen for the past four seasons. Speaking with the media, Gaugert said he only manages to play a round himself a few times a month. Still, he managed to survive a playoff to earn a start at the 3M Open. It will be Gaugert's first start on the PGA Tour.

Despite competing against each other, Gaugert and van Rooyen will still get to play together this week. They will be part of the same group on Thursday and Friday. They will tee off on Hole 1 at 2 p.m. on Thursday and at 8:35 a.m. on Friday at Hole 10.