BLAINE, Minn. -- If anyone knows TPC Twin Cities, it’s Troy Merritt.

The Spring Lake Park grad, who started his college career at Winona State before transferring to Boise State, first came to Blaine roughly 20 years ago. He watched the 3M Championship in person back when it was a Champions Tour event, and he played the course once or twice in high school.

And on Thursday, July 22, he torched the place.

Merritt shot a 7-under, 64 — birdieing six holes on the back nine — to tie Rickie Fowler for the 18-hole lead after the first round of the 3M Open. Merritt finished seventh at this event back in 2019.

“Just played solid all day. Hit a lot of fairways, lot of greens, had a lot of good looks, a couple two-putt birdies on the back side,” Merritt said. “That’s what you’ve got to do around this place; you’ve got to make a lot of birdies and try to avoid the little mistakes that aggravate you. And we were able to do that today for the most part.

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“Spent plenty of years up here playing on these style of golf courses, and hopefully we can use that to our advantage this weekend.”

This is the way Merritt’s game has been trending the past couple months. He logged three top-10s in the month of May and finished second — falling in a playoff — at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit this month. Merritt did miss the cut in each of the past two events, the John Deere Classic and in his first appearance at The Open, but that, he said, was a product of putts not falling.

They fell Thursday. They usually do for the 35-year-old aiming for his third career PGA Tour victory this weekend. The flat stick has been the strength of his game throughout much of his career, and particularly this summer. Merritt made a pair of birdie putts outside of 20 feet on the back nine in Round 1.

This is Merritt’s sixth tournament in six weeks, a stretch that started with the U.S. Open in late June. He admitted he’s tired and ready for a break. The trouble is, this stretch features some of his favorite events. He certainly wasn’t going to miss this one. He loves the bent-grass greens and, more important, the support he receives from Minnesotans.

Merritt recognized anywhere from 15 to 20 friends and family members following his group Thursday.

“Obviously, went to high school here, have a lot of family here still, and without having any spectators out here last year, you just want to come back and play and play well in front of the fans here,” he said.

And if Merritt can continue to play well and contend on Sunday, that local cheering contingency would only figure to grow.

“I’m sure some more will be coming out of the woodwork, especially the general public,” Merritt said. “Minnesotans love their golf, it’s a hot spot up here. If we can keep it going and get a decent crowd out this week, I think that’d be awesome for the tournament.”