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Why Utah’s Tony Finau is a popular pick to win the U.S. Open

Finau has a solid track record at Torrey Pines, home to this year’s event. That includes a second-place finish earlier this season at the Farmers Insurance Open

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Tony Finau is among the favorites for the upcoming U.S. Open.

Tony Finau hits off the third tee during the final round of the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. Finau is among the favorites for the upcoming U.S. Open.

Michael Ainsworth, Associated Press

When they haven’t been stoking the embers of the Brooks Koepka-Bryson DeChambeau tiff, national golf writers have been making their predictions for the U.S. Open this week at Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego.

A popular pick: Utah’s own Tony Finau.

The 31-year-old father of four, who grew up in the Rose Park area of Salt Lake City, graduated from West High and lived in Lehi before moving to Scottsdale, Arizona, last year, has the game to flourish at the public access South Course on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean.

“A U.S. Open course always presents its challenges. The slogan they go by is the ‘toughest test in golf.’ So mentally and physically, you have to be ready to play.” — Former Utah resident Tony Finau

“Tony Finau is in position to win his first major championship,” wrote John Hayes of The Athletic. “… I love how his game translates to Torrey Pines.”

Finau’s history at the Torrey Pines South Course is another reason he’s on most favorites lists. He finished in a tie for second earlier this year at the Farmers Insurance Open, five shots behind champion Patrick Reed. 

Finau has finished in the top 24 at Torrey Pines in all seven seasons he’s been on the PGA Tour, with four top-10s in his last five appearances at the long, windy track. According to golf writer Justin Ray, Finau has the best score in relation to par of any golfer on the South Course since 2017.

Finau is -25 there, while Reed and Marc Leishman are -24 and Jon Rahm is -23.

“I have great track record here at Torrey, so I am looking forward to it. … It is a golf course I have always had good experiences on,” Finau told CBS Sports HQ on Monday after arriving in San Diego with his family and swing coach Boyd Summerhays, another former Utahn.

“The only thing missing is the ‘W,’ so I am hoping we can knock that off this week,” he said.

Finau will play with Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Daniel Berger of the United States the first two days. The group tees off at 9:02 a.m. MDT on Thursday from the No. 1 tee and at 2:47 p.m. on Friday from the No. 10 tee.

Finau is the only golfer in the field with Utah ties. He’s No. 14 in the Official World Golf Rankings and No. 13 in the FedEx Cup standings.

“A U.S. Open course always presents its challenges,” he told CBS. “The slogan they go by is the ‘toughest test in golf.’ So mentally and physically, you have to be ready to play. You know it is going to be a tough grind. You have to put your best foot forward this week.”

Finau tied for eighth at 6-over-par in last year’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot, his 10th top-10 finish in a major. His best U.S. Open finish is fifth in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, where he fired a 66 in the third round and was in the final group Sunday with Koepka, the eventual champion.

In the last U.S. Open played on the West Coast, Finau shot 74-72 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Monterrey, California, and did not make the cut.

Torrey Pines is hosting its first U.S. Open since 2008, when Tiger Woods won his third U.S. Open by outlasting Rocco Mediate in a playoff. Attendance that week was around 40,000 spectators per day. The crowd will be capped at 10,000 per day this year.

The course will play at 7,652 yards and to a par-71, instead of par-72 because the sixth hole is considered a par-4 this week instead of a par-5. Call it what you will, it still measures out at 515 yards from the back tees.

“They are going to set it up long,” Finau said. “The rough is going to be thick, the greens are going to be fast. … The weather is going to be perfect all week, so I am looking forward to that, too.”

Finau has played well lately, after missing three cuts in a four-event stretch in the spring. Those were his first missed cuts since last summer.

He was eighth at the PGA Championship last month, an event won by 50-year-old Phil Mickelson, and he tied for 32nd at The Memorial Tournament on June 6. Finau has now made more than $3.6 million in prize money this season.

He told CBS that one of his biggest goals this season is to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team. The Ryder Cup will be played in September at Whistling Straits Golf Course in Wisconsin.

Finau is No. 9 in the current standings and believes he can earn one of the top six automatic berths for the team with a solid summer.

“That is something that is huge in my eyes, to make that team,” he said.

Another big finish at Torrey Pines would be a great start.

Finau has missed the cut just once in his last 13 majors (2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach) and finished worse than 42nd only one other time.

In his last six events at Torrey Pines, he has tied for second, tied for second, tied for 13th, tied for sixth, tied for fourth and tied for 18th.

“The great thing is I have had a lot of great finishes in major championships,” he said. “I don’t shy away from the big moments, and hopefully I have a big moment for my career this week. That would be pretty dang cool.”