AUGUSTA, Ga. — As it turned out, Tony Finau didn’t necessarily need the spectacular birdie from out of the woods at the 17th hole Sunday afternoon at the Masters, but it helped punch his ticket to next year’s Masters.
Finau’s sixth birdie in a row moved him to 6-under-par on the day, and his final-round 66 vaulted him into a tie for 10th place in his first Masters appearance. Because the top 12 finishers plus ties get an automatic spot in next year’s Masters, Finau won’t have to find another way to get back to Augusta.
The top 10 finish capped off a memorable week for the 28-year-old Salt Lake native, who came from a humble background growing up in Rose Park to playing in the most prestigious golf tournament in the world.
The week began with Finau getting widespread notoriety for his embarrassing fall after making a hole-in-one at the Wednesday Par-3 Contest and then putting his dislocated left ankle back into place himself (“the most embarrassing hole of my life, but I got a lot of cool coverage from it,” he said). From there he came out and shot a 4-under-par 68, good for second place after one round and then a couple of solid rounds before his final-round 66.
A 67 would have been enough to put him in the top 12, but Finau was thrilled to assure himself he’ll be coming back to the Masters in 2019. He acknowledged that was his motivation on the back nine when he shot 31.
“Yep, 100 percent,” he said. “I know nothing is guaranteed, right? You’d like to think you’ll be back, but nothing is guaranteed. That’s something I’ve learned in life and in this game. Take advantage of the opportunity you have.”
Finau was humble as usual after his round, giving credit to everyone from his family to his agent to his coach to his doctor for keeping him going through what could have been a disastrous initial Masters because of his injury.
“I’m really proud of everyone around me supporting me, and I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.
Finau began getting treatment on his injured left ankle Wednesday evening and wasn’t even sure he’d be playing Thursday until an early morning MRI confirmed that there was no expected long-term damage.
Finau went out and shot his 68 on his sore foot and followed it with a 74 on Friday. He wore high-topped golf shoes on Saturday to stabilize his ankle, but he tweaked his left knee at the third hole and made four straight bogeys before settling down to finish with a 73.
For Sunday’s final round, he had to deal with the hills of Augusta one last time, and through 11 holes was just 1-under-par and a long way from earning an exemption to next year’s tournament.
He hit his tee shot at the par-3 12th hole within 10 feet, then made two-putt birdies at 13 and 15 sandwiched around a 5-foot birdie putt at 14. He made another birdie at 16, hitting within 4 feet and then being topped by playing partner Charlie Hoffman, who made a hole-in-one, resulting in cheers reverberating around the pines of Augusta (Hoffman was smart enough not to duplicate Finau’s sprint after his hole-in-one on Wednesday, which they joked about on the 17th tee).
It was at the 440-yard 17th where Finau hit what was the shot of the tournament for him.
After hitting his drive into the trees on the right side, he somehow curved a 5-iron around the pines onto the top-right pin placement and leaving his ball 4 feet from the cup, which he sank for birdie.
“It was the shot of the week,” he said. “I had to hit a 40- or 50-yard fade of 185 yards. I would have taken a 4, but a 3 is better.”
It was one of just six birdies on the day at 17, which was the second-toughest hole of the day on the course. He had one last walk up the hill at No. 18, which he parred to complete his 66 and 281 total.
“Walking up the hills, I bet my foot is yellow and purple,” Finau said. “This morning it was purple. Right now I bet it’s yellow. I’m going to need some rest.”
Finau had planned to play in San Antonio in two weeks, but may take an extra week off to rest his sore foot.
“I’ll take some time off now and just enjoy the kind of week I’ve had,” he said. “All in all, it’s been a pretty spectacular week for me.”