Tony Finau has been consistently solid in the majors. Will this be the week he finally breaks through?
Utah golfer, so often in the hunt at major championships, will be looking for breakthrough victory this week at Augusta National.
Tony Finau, the trail-blazing Tongan golfer from Rose Park who started his career with clubs he bought at a thrift store for 75 cents apiece, has become one of the best golfers and best feel-good stories on the PGA Tour. He has ranked as high as No. 9 in the world rankings and has eight top-10 finishes in the majors, seven of them since 2018.
There’s just one thing wrong with his story (and if you follow him you know what’s coming next): He can’t finish. Or hasn’t. He comes close, but doesn’t win.
Finau’s one and only victory was in the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. Since then he has 30 top-10 finishes — and no victory. Golf writer/analyst Justin Ray noted that this dubious distinction ties him with Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar with the most top-10 finishes without a win on the PGA Tour over a four-year span.
In February, he had another strong opportunity to collect a win when he took a two-stroke lead heading into the final two holes of the Phoenix Open. He lost to Webb Simpson on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.
This is the burden Finau carries into this week’s Masters, which begins Thursday after being postponed for seven months because of the pandemic.
After the runner-up finish in Phoenix, Finau said — correctly — that he didn’t give Simpson the tournament, that Simpson grabbed the win by closing with three consecutive birdies.
“ ... if you’re going to get beat, that’s how it should happen,” Finau said.
Still, the result added to the mystery. As Golf World writer Joel Beall noted, “How does a player with renowned length, talent and touch, with five top-10s in the last eight majors and who’s been in the world’s top 15 for the better part of two years, boast only a lone, alternate-event title as he nears 31?”
It’s probably not fair to apply such expectations to a player who has done almost everything except win, especially in golf, which has perhaps the smallest margin for error of any sport. The difference between a good shot and a bad shot is millimeters on the angle of the club as it strikes the ball.
The sport requires power, accuracy, finesse, skill (or it did until equipment and ball changes put more of a premium on power in recent years). It’s probably safe to say that golf is the most difficult sport in which to win, yet alone win consistently, which is why the feats of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are so remarkable.
If performance in the majors is the ultimate measure of a golfer, then Finau has been wildly successful. This year he tied for eighth in the U.S. Open and tied for fourth in the PGA Championship. In 2019, he tied for fifth in the Masters and placed third in the British Open. In 2018, he tied for 10th in the Masters, tied for ninth in the British Open and was fifth in the U.S. Open. A top-10 finish in this week’s Masters would give him eight top-10 finishes in the last 11 majors (this year’s British Open was canceled) and nine overall.
CBS golf writer Kyle Porter, who picks Finau to finish ninth at this week’s Masters, wrote this week, “Finau has been terrific at majors over the course of his career. He has eight top-10 finishes in 17 starts and has top-10s at his only two appearances at the Masters. The only argument against him is a key one. He doesn’t win. He’s only won one time in his PGA Tour career, and it came at an opposite-field event. There’s a case to be made that he’s the best golfer of all time without a regular PGA Tour win.”
Beall did considerable research and discovered that in four of the past five seasons (through February 2020) his worst score has come in the fourth (final) round of tournaments (2017 was the opposite). Averaging Beall’s findings for 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020, this was the way Finau’s scoring broke down for the first four rounds, with his overall ranking against the PGA Tour for that round noted in parenthesis: 69.65 (37.5) — 69.57 (51.75) — 69.15 (25) — 70.61 (83.75).
The disparity between his performance in the third round (25th among his rivals) versus his performance in the fourth round (83rd) is vast. This does not count Finau’s performance in the three tournaments this fall, where he scored 69-73-73-71 in the U.S. Open, 69-64-69-69 in the Zozo Championship and 69-69-68-71 in the Vivint Open.
But whether he wins a tournament or not, Finau is in the midst of a brilliant career. His record in the majors confirms that. At 31, he has many more years to add to his resume.