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Paul Newberry: Tony Finau has quite a resume except for glaring omission

UPDATED: Sat., April 10, 2021

By Paul Newberry Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tony Finau has put together quite a resume.

With one glaring omission.

A consequential victory.

“I’ve had a really successful career,” Finau said, “but not quite a winning career.”

Well, this would be quite a week to mark that one off the to-do list.

The perennial close-but-no-cigar member of the PGA Tour, Finau has positioned himself again to deliver a breakthrough victory, the sort of triumph that would make him a household name beyond those diehard golf fans who recognize his immense talent.

Finau carded a 6-under 66 Friday in the second round of the Masters, leaving him just three strokes behind leader Justin Rose heading to the weekend.

It’s a familiar position for Finau, who you might remember – but probably don’t – played in the final group of the epic 2019 Masters won by Tiger Woods.

(Bonus points if you can name who also played with Finau and Woods that day. Never mind, it’s not important.)

Two years later, Finau is still trying to figure out how to finish the job.

“I’ve had a lot of close calls,” he conceded.

The first player of Tongan and American Samoan descent to make the tour, and a former center on his high school basketball team in Utah, the gangly, 6-foot-4 Finau is hard to miss when he’s strolling the course.

There’s no denying his skills, either.

Finau has finished in the top five of all four major championships, his best showing a third-place finish at the 2019 British Open. He’s represented the U.S. at both the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup. Over the past 2 1/2 years, he’s spent all but one week inside the top 20 of the world ranking.

Yet, despite those myriad accomplishments, Finau has managed a single win on the PGA Tour.

OK, here’s another chance to earn some extra points.

Name Finau’s lone victory.

Give up?

It was the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, one of those second-tier tournaments held opposite the exclusive World Golf Championship events – essentially, a chance for everyone else to tee it up while no one is paying a lick of attention. Finau was still early in his career at the time, still working his way up

Eventually, as he kept shoving his way into contention at bigger and bigger events, his remarkable journey began to get noticed.

How he learned to play the game smacking golf balls into a net in his family’s garage, hitting off carpet remnants. How his father scrimped for clubs at pawn shops and garage sales and anywhere else he could get them on the cheap.

Yet, despite all his success and feel-good backstory, it’s impossible to ignore that Finau’s winless streak has now stretched to more than five years.

He knows that must change if he’s going be recognized as a truly great player.

“I feel like I carry a lot of confidence in these big events because I have competed at a high level in a lot of them.,” he said. “But I think missing that W keeps me humble and hungry, and hopefully I can notch that off this week.”

Maybe his experience from two years ago at Augusta National will help him get over the hump this time.

Finau went into the final round tied with Woods, two shots behind the leader, Francesco Molinari (the answer to our first question, for those left hanging). They played as a threesome, going off early to get ahead of storms bearing down on Augusta.

With all eyes on Woods, of course, Finau wilted in the glare of one of golf’s most memorable days.

He struggled through a mediocre round, essentially a forgotten figure after he dunked one in Rae’s Creek at No. 12. Finau signed for a 72 and a tie for fifth, two strokes behind Woods, who brought the thunder with his 15th major title.

Looking back on that day stirs up mixed feelings for Finau.

“To have had a really legitimate chance on that back nine, to just taste what that is and what that feels like in just my second Masters, I think is going to serve me well,” he said.

“But,” Finau quickly added, “it was a little bitter just because I did feel like I might have let one slip because of how good I felt that week. … My game was in a good place, my mind was in a good place, and I didn’t execute that shot on 12.”

Finau is probably best known around Augusta National for his debut in 2018 – actually, the day before his first Masters round, when an uncustomary bit of exuberance left him with a frightening injury.

While celebrating a hole-in-one during the Par-3 Contest, Finau took off running toward the green, stepped awkwardly and dislocated his left ankle. It quickly popped back into place, nothing was broken, and doctors cleared him to play the tournament, albeit with his ankle heavily taped.

Essentially competing on one leg and pure grit, Finau somehow managed to finish in a tie for 10th.

Another reminder, this guy is very good.

For the most part, Finau shows little emotion. No matter how his round his going – good, bad or indifferent – his calm demeanor rarely changes.

“This is how I am, who I am,” he said. “I’m not someone that’s going to freak out when something bad happens, and I’m probably not one that’s going to get too crazy when something great happens.”

Is that what’s holding him back? Should he pump a fist every now and then? Should he pound his club when a shot goes awry?

“I’m not going to change who I am to get different results,” Finau said. “Maybe I should, but I think good things are on the horizon. I just have to think that way because that’s how I am.”

Maybe this is the time and place.

He sure deserve a win that everyone will remember.

Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for the Associated Press.

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