JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Tony Finau ended more than five years and 142 tournaments without winning with a dynamic charge on the back nine and big miss from Cameron Smith to capture the rain-delayed Northern Trust in a playoff Monday.
Finau was three shots out of the lead when he ran off a birdie-eagle-birdie stretch at Liberty National, the last one a 30-foot putt across the 14th green. He closed with a 6-under 65.
Smith had a rally of his own with two late birdies, missing a 25-foot birdie chance on the 18th in regulation that would have won it. He closed with a 67.
That was as close as the Australian came to winning.
On the 18th in the playoff, Smith hit such a wild drive that it sailed over the retaining wall that separates Liberty National from the edge of the Hudson River. Finau had already pounded his drive down the middle of the fairway, and the playoff at that point was effectively over.
That’s just what Finau needed — no drama, and more importantly, a victory.
Since winning the Puerto Rico Open in the spring of 2016, Finau had eight runner-up finishes, three of those in a playoff, and 11 finishes in the top three.
Now, one of the most likeable players in golf goes to the top of the FedEx Cup standings and No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings with one week left to be among six automatic qualifiers. Even if he doesn’t make it, it will be tough for U.S. captain Steve Stricker to keep him off the team.
He was the guy who did everything right but win, and now that burden was lifted.
Finau, who had to save par from the bunker with a 6-foot putt on the 18th in regulation to finish at 20-under 264, only had to two-putt for par in the playoff.
He lifted his head to the sky and fluttered his lips in sheer relief.
“It took just about everything I had,” he said.
And it took some help from Smith, who two weeks ago lost a chance to win a World Golf Championship with a wild drive on the 18th.
Jon Rahm contributed, too.
Rahm looked to be in control all afternoon, even as Finau began his big run. The world’s No. 1 player was bogey-free, made birdie on all three of the par 5s and threw a wedge into 3 feet for another birdie.
It came undone quickly, though. Rahm’s tee shot found the bunker on the 15th and he missed a 6-foot par putt. On the reachable par-4 16th, he caught all ball with a pitch that sailed 30 feet by the pin and cost him an easy birdie.
He didn’t get another look at birdie over the final two holes, saving par from a bunker on the 17th and having to lay up from a fairway bunker on the 18th, where he closed with a bogey and a 69 to finish alone in third.
“I haven’t been able to digest it,” Rahm said after his round. “My son put a smile on my face so at least I’m not in a terrible mood.”
There were other big winners Monday, starting with Keith Mitchell. He was at No. 101 in the FedEx Cup, and only the top 70 advance to the BMW Championship. Mitchell needed a big finish and delivered with three straight birdies for a 69 to tie for eighth at 13-under 271.
“We thought 13 (under) was good,” Mitchell said. “When I had that putt on 18, I had to make it in my mind. Fortunately, I hit a great putt.”
Tom Hoge started at No. 108 and tied for fourth to advance. That was his best finish of the year, and it came at just the right time with points counting quadruple.
Also moving on to the BMW Championship later this week were Alex Noren, Erik van Rooyen, Harold Varner III and Harry Higgs. Van Rooyen was in contention on the front nine until he hit two shots in the water on the par-3 11th and made a quadruple-bogey 7.
Finau all along had 20 under as his target, and caddie Mark Urbanek told him at the turn to deliver his best back nine of the year. He shot 30, and that turned out to be enough.
The final round was postponed on Sunday as Hurricane Henri approached, and the edges of what became a tropical storm at landfall dumped more than 6 inches of rain on Liberty National. There was another four-hour delay in the morning and spectators were kept away.
They missed quite a show, and a popular winner.