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PGA Championship: Tony Finau recovers spectacularly in first round after early problems with Oak Hill’s gnarly rough

Big-time turnaround: Former Salt Lake City resident shoots a 31 on the back nine after opening with a 41 on the front nine Thursday

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Tony Finau speaks

Professional golfer Tony Finau becomes emotional as he talks about the influence his mother, Vena Finau, had on him during the Tony Finau Foundation Golf Classic at Oak Ridge Country Club in Farmington on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

It was a tale of two nines for Utah’s Tony Finau in the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York.

Awful on the front nine, spectacular on the back nine.

After shooting a woeful 5-over 41 in his first nine holes and displaying a wayward driver that was disastrous due to Oak Hill’s gnarly rough, Finau played considerably better on the inward nine to finish his day at 2-over-par 72 in the second major golf championship of the season.

That’s a remarkable score of 41-31 on the card for the golfer from Salt Lake City’s Rose Park neighborhood.

With some golfers not able to finish the first round due to darkness, Finau is currently tied for 42nd place.

One of those golfers who was not able to finish was Eric Cole, who leads the tournament at 5-under through 14 holes. Bryson DeChambeau is at 4-under, having finished well before darkness halted play.

Finau’s tee time was pushed back to 1:26 p.m. MDT after an early morning frost delay. He got off to a decent start, making pars on the first three holes.

Then Oak Hill struck back, as Finau made a bogey on the only hole on the entire course that was playing under par for the field when he toured it, the par-5 fourth. Finau’s tee shot found a fairway bunker, and he had to chip out sideways.

His third shot remained in the rough, and his fourth shot came to rest against a television microphone near the green. The ensuing bogey on No. 4 was a sign of things to come, as Finau made a double-bogey on the par-3 fifth hole and bogeys on three of the next four holes after that.

Having hit only one fairway on the front nine, Finau missed the fairway on No. 10, too, this time to the right, with his tee shot, and it appeared he was on his way to a rare missed cut in a major.

However, the former Salt Lake City and Lehi resident somehow managed to get his approach shot on the green despite it being buried in deep rough, and salvaged a par that jump-started his round.

Finau made birdies on 11, 13, 14 and 15 to play himself back into the tournament. 

He drained a 45-footer on the par-3 11th for a 2, then birdied the par-5 13th routinely thanks to a favorable bounce.

On No. 14, the short 317-yard par-4, Finau drove into a greenside bunker, but “saved” the birdie by blasting to 10 feet and making the putt. 

The back-nine magic wasn’t over. Finau rolled in a 32-foot, 9-inch putt for birdie on No. 15 to get to 2-over. He made 10-foot testers for par on holes 17 and 18 to complete the back nine at 31.

Finau was scheduled to tee off in the second round at 6:11 a.m. MDT. He is in good position to make the cut, providing he doesn’t get off to another poor start. He will start on the No. 10 tee Friday.

Finau has made the cut in 22 of his 27 starts in majors, and is trying to make the cut for the eighth time in nine tries at the PGA Championship.