PGA Tour

How Tony Finau made a sudden u-turn, from an early exit to having a chance to win

January 27, 2023
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Orlando Ramirez

SAN DIEGO — It is a wonderful thing in golf when you absolutely need to find another gear and can do so as easily as retrieving a tee in your pocket. That’s certainly what Tony Finau pulled off in the second round of the Farmers Insurance Open on Thursday when he was in danger of not making the cut on a Torrey Pines track that has always favored him.

Finau was one shot off the cutline as he stood on the tee of Torrey North’s par-5 ninth hole—his last of the day. With designs on reaching the green in two, he reared back and blasted a 340-yard bomb into the heavy evening air. “Best drive of the week,” he would later say.

From there, he had only 6-iron into the hole, and Finau flushed his shot onto the green and made a routine two-putt that allowed him to shoot 71 on the North and stay alive for the weekend right on the number.

“Sometimes making the cut on the number is almost like new life,” Finau said. “Especially the whole day I was on the outside looking in. That's pretty much how I looked at it.”

“New life” hardly ever looks like this on the PGA Tour. Relegated to starting his third round on the back nine of the demanding South Course, 12 strokes out of Sam Ryder’s lead, Finau birdied four holes on his front, holed out a wedge from the fairway for an eagle at No. 1, and made two more birdies, including one at his 18th hole. That all added up to six birdies, an eagle and no bogeys in a round of eight-under-par 64 that was one shot off the record on the renovated South Course.

Finau, the 12th-ranked player in the world, started the day in a tie for 54th. He ended it in solo third, four shots behind Ryder and two back of Jon Rahm (66), with whom he’ll be grouped in the final threesome in the final round on Saturday. The 64 was more than eight strokes better than the third round scoring average of 72.20. The card was also nine shots improved from Finau’s opening round of 73 on the South.

“I knew on this golf course in my head something around 67, I was still going to have an outside chance to do something special [on Saturday],” Finau said. “And I ended up shooting a few shots better than that and I find myself right near the top of the leaderboard, so it's kind of a cool spot.”

Contemplating his chances to tie or break the course record in some of the most difficult conditions the South offered beyond its two U.S. Opens, Finau said, “I made a lot of putts, but I hit it so nicely … I didn't make all of them, but I definitely had 62 … a chance at it to break the course record, which around this place is quite good.”

Finau’s putting looked so good because his work with the flat stick early in the week was so bad. In the first round, he missed eight putts inside 10 feet and suffered a career-worst five lost strokes to the field while needing 34 rolls. “The putter was quite cold and was never really comfortable over it,” Finau said.

He made some setup adjustments, and on Friday, Finau gained 3.1 strokes on the greens and putted only 27 times.

That, of course, prompted the question of what the adjustment was, and Finau broke into another smile. “Yeah, we're going to hold that close to the chest because we're not done with this tournament yet,” he said.

Finau is seeking his second win of the year and fifth in the last 17 months, and though securing the Farmers still seems like a long shot given the four-shot deficit, that didn’t matter one bit to the Utah native’s family. On the sidewalk, several members of his clan danced in a line, their hands waving in the air and the happiest of smiles on their faces.

“They all have a happy dance,” Finau explained. “Every time we're eating good food and we like to dance, and anytime something good happens, they like to dance. So they celebrate the small victories with me and I love having them on the road with me.”

As small victories go, this one was undeniably big.