DETROIT – Sometimes the narrative changes fast.
This time last season we wondered when Tony Finau would win again, what with his five-plus-year drought since the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. His fans of him gnashed their teeth on Sundays, tried to console themselves on Mondays. The close calls mounted, none more painful than at the 2020 WM Phoenix Open, when it all seemed so unfair his oldest son, Jraice, was in tears.
Well, so much for all that.
One week after winning the 3M Open, Finau shot a clinical 67 to jump away his second victory in as many weeks at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. His 26-under-par total set a tournament record and left him five clear of Patrick Cantlay (66), Cameron Young (68), and Taylor Pendrith (72).
Oh, and with his victory at THE NORTHERN TRUST at Liberty National almost exactly a year ago, Finau has now racked up three wins in 12 months. Who’s laughing now?
“I’m very optimistic,” Finau said. “I’ve always been that way. I’ve always had hope and faith that things will turn out if I just keep working hard and putting myself there.”
Call it grit, stubbornness or perseverance. If he just kept putting himself in uncomfortable situations, if he kept learning more about the emotions that bubbled up in those situations, eventually, Finau reasoned, he would figure it out. And now he has.
“I’m proud of the way that I fought through adversity through my career,” he said, “and now I’m a back-to-back champion. … They say a winner is just a loser that just kept on trying, and that’s me to a T. How many times do I lose? But one thing I won’t do is give up and I’m only here as a winner because I chose not to give up and just keep going.”
The last player to win in back-to-back weeks during the FedExCup Regular Season was Brendon Todd in 2019. The last to win in back-to-back starts was Xander Schauffele earlier this season, at the Travelers Championship and Genesis Scottish Open.
This Rocket Mortgage wasn’t as lopsided as the final score. Finau pulled his tee shot at the par-3 ninth and hit his pitch shot 11 feet past the hole. With a bogey, Pendrith would be only one back. Cantlay, two groups ahead of them, had made the turn in 31 and would be two back. But Finau charged his par putt, and the ball caught the lip, spun around the cup, and dropped.
“Some of those putts haven’t gone my way in the past, I feel like, where they’re lipping out instead of lipping in,” said Finau, who added that he got a read off Pendrith’s birdie try. “So when that lipped in going on the low side, that gave me some momentum right into the back nine. I was able to make (a birdie) on 10 and then I was in control of the golf tournament.”
Added his caddy of two years, Mark Urbanek, “Sometimes those par putts feel bigger even than the birdies, especially on a course like this, where you feel like you’re losing more than one shot with a bogey. That was a nasty lie over there on 9; that was a good up-and-down.”
Finau came into the week as clearly the hottest player in the field, and he leaves having perhaps amended that to the hottest player in all of golf.
“I’ve seen rounds this good, but to do it for 144 holes and win back-to-back is impressive,” Urbanek said. “We talked before the round that if he can take care of the par 5s and coast the rest of the way, be patient and get our looks, it would be really hard for someone to catch him. I mean, Taylor could, but anybody else was going to have to shoot 9 or 10 under.”
Seeking his first win, Pendrith never looked at ease and faulted his lack of feel on the greens.
Finau hit 46 of 56 fairways and 66 of 72 greens in regulation and, not surprisingly, led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. He was 6-for-6 in scrambling for the week, also first in the field, and ranked 15th in Strokes Gained: Putting (+4.478).
Hard to believe, but he didn’t love Detroit Golf Club the first time he saw it. (He tied for 53rd in 2020.) It’s a classic, tree-lined Donald Ross, and Finau was curving the ball so much he had trouble keeping it in the fairway. He and his coach, Boyd Summerhays, worked hard to fix that.
“He still shapes it,” Urbanek said, “but no more than the width of a fairway. He’s not having to start it over the trees and try to bring it back.”
Added Finau, “I’m a lot better than I was just a couple years ago.”
After making birdies at 10, 12, 14 and 17 – the latter two being par 5s, making him 4-for-4 on those holes for the day – and a drama-free par on 18, he embraced wife Alayna, who flew from their home in Utah late Saturday.
“I’m not surprised to see this,” she said. “He’s worked so hard. But it does feel cool.”
The couple have five children, and the 3M Open marked the first time the family had been on site to see him win. Alas, they had to go home afterward, as Jraice, 10, had two golf tournaments, and there was also a baby shower and a family reunion to attend.
Finau has his foundation golf tournament Monday, and then it’s on to the FedEx St. Jude Championship and the start of the FedExCup Playoffs. With his fourth career win, he moved from No. 17 to No. 7 on the FedExCup Playoffs and Eligibility Points List, and while he’s got a lot of ground to make up – Scottie Scheffler remains in pole position, well ahead – Finau said he is unknown.
“Those guys will be hard to catch,” he said, “but the way the points work in the FedExCup, you’re able to race up that, climb that ladder pretty fast. I at least have given myself a chance. I’ve said it before, a week can change your life. I guess when you look at mine, two weeks is now back-to-back weeks has now changed my life, and it’s a great feeling.”