By MIKE COOK
BLAINE, Minn. — Rocco Mediate already loves Minnesota.
This weekend, he’s hoping to add a professional highlight to his personal experience in the state.
The Champions Tour rookie is engaged to Minnesotan Jessica Somers and has a summer home in Excelsior, a suburb west of Minneapolis. When he takes the course at the TPC Twin Cities on Friday morning, Mediate will be one of several first-timers to play in the 3M Championship, the annual senior tour stop in the land of lakes.
“It’s going to be a great week. It’s good to be home,” Mediate said Wednesday after a playing in a pro-am with a group that included former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. “All of our friends and all my new friends will be out.”
Mediate, who turned 50 in December, has had a decent season.
He won the Allianz Championship in February and finished fifth or sixth in his next three events. After finishing no higher than 22nd place in four June events, he rebounded with a third-place finish at the U.S. Senior Open two weeks ago. He tied for 18th at last week’s Senior British Open.
“I putted good for five weeks and the next five weeks I putted normal,” said Mediate, who is 38th on the tour rankings in putting at 29.74 per round. “If you putt normal out here against these guys, game’s over.”
Struggles on the greens also have been a problem for the newest, and one of the most decorated, players on the 50 and over tour.
Colin Montgomerie, who turned 50 on June 23, has played in the three tour majors since then (finishing ninth, 30th and 21st), but will be competing in his first regular tour stop this week.
“The Champions Tour is a much more friendly atmosphere away from the course. On the course, it’s incredibly similar, and I’m glad it is,” said Montgomerie, who has won 31 European Tour events in his career and finished second at five major championships.
The Scot said he’s hitting his drives and irons as well as ever, but he, too, is struggling with the putter. He had the club beside him at a news conference Wednesday and said it would be by his side everywhere he goes and whatever he does the next few days.
“The only way you’re going to score low is if you putt well. I don’t care where it is. It could be a runway or a pitch-and-putt. If you’re not putting well you can forget it,” he said.
Mediate, who recorded six wins during his 27-year PGA Tour career, might be best known for losing to Tiger Woods in a 19-hole playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open. He will be paired with Kenny Perry and Craig Stadler for Friday’s opening round. Perry has won two majors this year and leads the tournament points race. Stadler has five top-eight finishes in seven starts at the 3M Championship.
“It’s good to play with the best guys because you want to put yourself up against those guys to see if you can beat them, whether it’s this tour or any tour,” Mediate said.
Montgomerie will play with Jay Don Blake and Brad Faxon.
The tournament’s winning score has been at least 15 under in each of the past six years. The last 10 champions all have had three consecutive scores in the 60s.
General admission to the tournament is free for the third straight year. The largest crowds are expected Saturday when, in addition to the tournament’s second round, three of the top women’s golfers in history are scheduled to play in the Greats of Golf Challenge, an 18-hole scramble.
Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley will compete against a pair of men’s teams. One will feature Lee Trevino, David Graham and Fuzzy Zoeller; the other will have Johnny Miller, Dave Stockton and Bill Rogers. Arnold Palmer is scheduled to captain the women’s team while Billy Casper and Don January will serve as men’s team captains.