AUGUSTA, Ga. — When he hit into four bunkers on his first five holes in Thursday’s opening round of the Masters, Utah’s Tony Finau had to fight hard to keep his game from going off the rails almost before he got started in his second Masters Tournament.
He did, by shooting a 1-under-par 71 at Augusta National Golf Club that puts him in a tie for 21st place on a crowded leaderboard, headed by Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau at 66.
The Salt Lake native came back with three birdies at par-5 holes 8, 13 and 15 and his only disappointment was a bogey at No. 17 when he missed the fairway with his drive and hit into another bunker.
When Finau finished his round around 3 p.m. local time, it looked like he might just be a couple of shots off the lead as three players were in at 3-under. However, the wind died toward the end of the day and by the time the last groups finished at 7:30 p.m., there were five golfers with scores better than 69.
Still, Finau said he was "happy" with his opening 71 and knows there’s room for improvement.
“The key was the par-saves on 5 and 6,” he said. “Being 2-over is a lot different than being 1-over. Those were the huge momentum-changers throughout a round that you need to post a good number.”
Finau began with par saves at 1 and 2 after hitting in greenside bunkers, but didn't get up and down at No. 4 where he made his only bogey on the front nine. He made a two-putt birdie at No. 8 and added birds at the two back-nine par-5s.
Despite heavy rains on both Monday and Tuesday, Finau felt the greens Thursday were “lightning fast,” and it was hard for him to gauge them.
“I couldn’t quite get the pace down,” he said. “On a lot of downhill putts I left them short, maybe gave them a little too much respect. I feel like they’re faster than they were last year and when you combine the undulation with that, your misses have to be smaller.”
After making the disappointing bogey on 17 to fall to 1-under, Finau had a great chance to go back to 2-under par at 18 when he hit his approach within 10 feet. However, his putt ended up 2 inches short, leaving him with a par.
“I had a great look at 18 and disappointed I left that short. It was an easy putt straight up the hill.”
Last year, Finau started with a 68 on that injured ankle and came back with a 74 in the second round. If he can shoot under par in Friday’s second round, Finau will be ahead of last year’s pace.
Finau tees off at 12:54 p.m. local time and will again play with Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson, who shot 73 and 74, respectively.