Planet Golf — 29 July 2022 by GW staff and news services
Finau goes back-to-back in Detroit

DETROIT – Sometimes the narrative changes fast.

This time last season we wondered when Tony Finau would win again, what with his five-plus-year drought since the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. His fans gnashed their teeth on Sundays, tried to console themselves on Mondays. The close calls mounted, none more painful than at the 2020 WM Phoenix Open, when it all seemed so unfair his oldest son, Jraice, was in tears.

Well, so much for all that.

One week after winning the 3M Open, Finau shot a clinical 67 to salt away his second victory in as many weeks at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. His 26-under-par total set a tournament record and left him five clear of Patrick Cantlay (66), Cameron Young (68), and Taylor Pendrith (72).

Oh, and with his victory at THE NORTHERN TRUST at Liberty National almost exactly a year ago, Finau has now racked up three wins in 12 months. Who’s laughing now?

“I’m very optimistic,” Finau said. “I’ve always been that way. I’ve always had hope and faith that things will turn out if I just keep working hard and putting myself there.”

Call it grit, stubbornness, or perseverance. If he just kept putting himself in uncomfortable situations, if he kept learning more about the emotions that bubbled up in those situations, eventually, Finau reasoned, he would figure it out. And now he has.

“I’m proud of the way that I fought through adversity through my career,” he said, “and now I’m a back-to-back champion. … They say a winner is just a loser that just kept on trying, and that’s me to a T. How many times do I lose? But one thing I won’t do is give up and I’m only here as a winner because I chose not to give up and just keep going.”  

The last player to win in back-to-back weeks during the FedExCup Regular Season was Brendon Todd in 2019. The last to win in back-to-back starts was Xander Schauffele earlier this season, at the Travelers Championship and Genesis Scottish Open.

This Rocket Mortgage wasn’t as lopsided as the final score. Finau pulled his tee shot at the par-3 ninth and hit his pitch shot 11 feet past the hole. With a bogey, Pendrith would be only one back. Cantlay, two groups ahead of them, had made the turn in 31 and would be two back. But Finau charged his par putt, and the ball caught the lip, spun around the cup, and dropped.

“Some of those putts haven’t gone my way in the past, I feel like, where they’re lipping out instead of lipping in,” said Finau, who added that he got a read off Pendrith’s birdie try. “So when that lipped in going on the low side, that gave me some momentum right into the back nine. I was able to make (a birdie) on 10 and then I was in control of the golf tournament.”

Added his caddie of two years, Mark Urbanek, “Sometimes those par putts feel bigger even than the birdies, especially on a course like this, where you feel like you’re losing more than one shot with a bogey. That was a nasty lie over there on nine; that was a good up and down.”

Finau came into the week as clearly the hottest player in the field, and he leaves having perhaps amended that to the hottest player in all of golf.

“I’ve seen rounds this good, but to do it for 144 holes and win back-to-back is impressive,” Urbanek said. “We talked before the round that if he can take care of the par 5s and coast the rest of the way, be patient and get our looks, it would be really hard for someone to catch him. I mean, Taylor could, but anybody else was going to have to shoot 9 or 10 under.”

Seeking his first win, Pendrith never looked at ease and faulted his lack of feel on the greens.  

Finau hit 46 of 56 fairways and 66 of 72 greens in regulation, and, not surprisingly, led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green. He was six for six in scrambling for the week, also first in the field, and ranked 15th in Strokes Gained: Putting (+4.478).

Hard to believe, but he didn’t love Detroit Golf Club the first time he saw it. (He tied for 53rd in 2020.) It’s a classic, tree-lined Donald Ross, and Finau was curving the ball so much he had trouble keeping it in the fairway. He and his coach, Boyd Summerhays, worked hard to fix that.

“He still shapes it,” Urbanek said, “but no more than the width of a fairway. He’s not having to start it over the trees and try to bring it back.”

Added Finau, “I’m a lot better than I was just a couple years ago.”

After making birdies at 10, 12, 14 and 17 – the latter two being par 5s, making him four for four on those holes for the day – and a drama-free par on 18, he embraced wife Alayna, who flew from their home in Utah late Saturday.

“I’m not surprised to see this,” she said. “He’s worked so hard. But it does feel cool.”

The couple have five kids, and the 3M Open marked the first time the family had been on site to see him win. Alas, they had to go home afterward, as Jraice, 10, had two golf tournaments, and there was also a baby shower and a family reunion to attend. 

Finau has his foundation golf tournament Monday, and then it’s on to the FedEx St. Jude Championship and the start of the FedExCup Playoffs. With his fourth career win, he moved from No. 17 to No. 7 on the FedExCup Playoffs and Eligibility Points List, and while he’s got a lot of ground to make up – Scottie Scheffler remains in pole position, well ahead – Finau said he is undeterred.

“Those guys will be hard to catch,” he said, “but the way the points work in the FedExCup, you’re able to race up that, climb that ladder pretty fast. I at least have given myself a chance. I’ve said it before, a week can change your life. I guess when you look at mine, two weeks is now back-to-back weeks has now changed my life, and it’s a great feeling.”

THIRD ROUND

DETROIT – Tony Finau is making the game look easy.

He does that sometimes.

One week after capturing his third PGA TOUR title at the 3M Open, Finau shot a third-round 65 to tie playing partner Taylor Pendrith (66) for the lead at 21 under at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. They’re four clear of Cameron Young (65), five ahead of Stephan Jaeger (65).

“Taylor’s playing some great golf,” Finau said. “I can’t say we pulled away from the guys, this is the type of golf course where someone can shoot 8, 9, 10 under, but if we put together a good round tomorrow, might be a two‑man race and I’m looking forward to the challenge again.”

The tournament scoring record (25 under, Nate Lashley, 2019) is very much in jeopardy.

Patrick Cantlay (66) is six back, but the reigning FedExCup champ has work to do.

If it comes down to a two-man race Sunday, Pendrith would be considered the underdog. The 6-foot-5-inch Canadian is a TOUR rookie at 31 and ranked 237th in the world. (Finau is 16th.) Pendrith hasn’t even played all the much this year, taking a 12-week break to heal a fractured rib, an injury he says he suffered while simply swinging a club.

Although he earned his TOUR card by virtue of his finish (No. 5) on the Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List last season, Pendrith was one of three players to do so without a victory. Nevertheless, he, too, is firing on all cylinders in the Motor City, making eight birdies Saturday, including four in the last five holes to pull into a tie for the lead.

“Yeah, it was cool,” he said. “Obviously he made a ton of birdies and I finished the round with a lot of birdies, so it was fun. We were going back and forth. Tony bombs it off the tee and I hit it far as well, so it was fun, kind of similar games I guess, and we attacked it very well.”

Young, who finished T3 at the PGA Championship and second at The Open Championship, is the leading contender for PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year. He thought he was going to be five behind going into the final round, and said, “I have to play a ridiculous round of golf tomorrow to have any chance.” But even at four back, he’ll likely still need a ridiculous round.

Finau is usually a tee-to-green superstar, and this week is no different. He hit 13 of 14 fairways Saturday, and for the second straight day hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation. Add his first-round effort of 18 for 18, a career first, and he’s 50 for 54.

“Yeah, I think that’s a big reason I’ve been hitting so many greens,” he said. “I’m just hitting a lot more fairways than I’m accustomed to or than I have in the past. This golf course really opens up to you if you hit it in the short grass and it definitely has for me these first three rounds.”

He’s also 7th in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting (4.398), a potent one-two punch, and he has yet to make a single bogey this week. His highlight Saturday may have been his towering flop shot third at the par-5 14th hole, where, out of the rough to a green running away from him, it was going to be hard to stop the ball if it didn’t hit the hole. That’s exactly what it did – when you’re on, you’re on – before stopping 8 feet, 2 inches past the pin. He made the putt.

The last player to win in back-to-back weeks during the FedExCup Regular Season was Brendon Todd in 2019. The last to win in back-to-back starts was Xander Schauffele earlier this season, at the Travelers Championship and Genesis Scottish Open. Scottie Scheffler (World Golf Championships-Dell Technology Match Play, Masters Tournament) also pulled it off this year.

“I feel like I hit it as good as I’ve hit it from tee to green last week, so I think I’ve definitely elevated that part of the game,” Finau said. “It’s nice to capitalize on some of the putts.”

THIRD ROUND

DETROIT — Taylor Pendrith of Canada shot a 7-under 65 on Friday to take a one-shot lead over Tony Finau into the weekend in the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Pendrith and Finau shared the first-round lead at 8 under and will be in the final group Saturday, pairing a 31-year-old PGA TOUR rookie with a 32-year-old veteran coming off his third career victory.

Rookie Lee Hodges (66) was three shots back.

PGA TOUR rookie of the year front-runner Cameron Young tied a Detroit Golf Club record with a 63 for a share of fourth place — five shots back — with Russell Henley (65) and Stewart Cink (66).

Rookie Sahith Theegala (67) was another shot back in a pack that includes defending FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay, who bounced back from an opening-round 70 with a 65.

Davis Love III, the 58-year-old U.S. Presidents Cup captain, was in Detroit in part to play and more importantly to get to know players better on and off the course that may represent the country in September at Quail Hollow Club in North Carolina.

Love missed the cut at 5-over 149, but made the most of an opportunity to have dinner with some President Cup candidates and to play two rounds with with Young and Will Zalatoris.

Young and Zalatoris, teammates at Wake Forest and close friends, may be paired together again in two months.

“If they make the team, they’re a natural,” Love said.

Zalatoris, No. 13 in the world ranking, perhaps felt pressure playing with Love because he barely made the cut. He had to birdie his 36th hole to get to 3 under, the cut line, with a pair of lackluster rounds.

If Young does not earn an automatic spot on the American team, he might be a captain’s pick.

“Cameron is trending up,” Love said. “Go back to Jordan Spieth. Nobody heard of him and next thing you know in one year he’s on the Presidents Cup team, and Cam’s headed that way, too. No one ever heard of him on the Korn Ferry and here he is, he almost won a major.”

Young had a runner-up finish at The Open Championship and at the PGA Championship, he missed a playoff by a shot. He has four second-place finishes and was third in two tournaments. And in Detroit, Young showed Love up close what he can do.

“I would hope that I made some kind of case,” he said.

Pendrith is playing in his third tournament after being out for nearly four months with a broken rib, a break that reminded him of his youth.

“We have a long offseason in Canada, so I didn’t touch a club all winter basically growing up so I guess I’m kind of used to it in a way,” he said.

Pendrith said matter of factly that he can compete with the best when he’s healthy and has showed that so far at Detroit Golf Club.

No one, though, has been better than Finau lately.

The Salt Lake City native with Tongan-Samoan heritage is 32 under over his last 107 holes, including rallying from a five-shot deficit last Sunday in Minnesota to win the 3M Open by three shots.

Pendrith tried to pull away in the second round in Detroit, opening with four straight birdies and six in his first 10 holes. He had two birdies and a bogey over the final five holes to finish Friday alone in first.

Finau, meanwhile, started slow with only one birdie on the front nine before carding five birdies on the back. He has a shot be the first PGA TOUR player to win two straight regular season tournaments since Brendon Todd in 2019.

“Anytime you win, you breed confidence,” Finau said. “I was just happy to carry that confidence from last week right into this week.”

FIRST ROUND

DETROIT — Tony Finau sent an approach from 250 yards soaring over trees and onto the seventh green at Detroit Golf Club, going for the reward and ignoring the risk with a difficult shot.

The way he has been playing over the last week, it made a lot of sense.

Finau, coming off his third career victory on the PGA Tour, and Taylor Pendrith shared the first-round lead at 8-under 64 on Thursday in the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

The pivotal shot on Finau’s 16th hole, a 560-yard par 5, set up a two-putt from 43 feet for one of his eight birdies.

“I had to get all of it to get it to the hole and hit it right in the middle of the green,” he said.

The leaderboard was filled with players who took advantage of favorable scoring conditions with morning tee times. In the afternoon, the wind picked up and the scores did as well.

Former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, Michael Thompson, Cameron Champ, Lee Hodges and Matt Wallace were two shots back.

Si Woo Kim and Kurt Kitayama, both ranked among the top 70 in the world, were in the pack at 67.

Finau, who rallied from a five-shot deficit with 11 holes left to win the 3M Open by three shots Sunday in Minnesota, opened with a birdie and had five birdies on his front nine.

After cooling off with four straight pars, Finau closed with his seventh and eighth birdies in a bogey-free round. He hit all 18 greens in regulation for the first time in 728 PGA Tour stroke-play rounds.

“Do the math, I missed 10 putts,” he said. “Obviously, 64′s a very good round, but this is a golf course where a lot of guys are going to make birdies.”

On the par-4 eighth hole, he made a 41-foot putt downhill with a slight break from right to left for another birdie and a three-shot lead.

“It was nice to just get a bonus birdie on 8 after a poor wedge shot, but that’s why we call our putter the equalizer,” Finau said.

Pendrith, a 31-year-old PGA Tour rookie, surged into a share of the lead with five birdies in a seven-hole stretch on his back nine.

Toward the end of his round, the relatively anonymous player in the world noticed the ‘h’ in his last name was missing on the leaderboard.

Alas, the 8 under next to his misspelled name was correct.

“That’s all that matters,” he said with a grin.

Pendrith is atop a leaderboard for the first time on the PGA Tour following an opening round. The Canadian did have the third-round lead by three shots last October at the Bermuda Championship before closing with a 76 and finishing a career-high fifth.

In March, he was 13th at the Players Championship and came away with a career-best $327,222 — and a broken rib.

The injury prevented him from competing for nearly four months, leading to him being ranked No. 237. He has bounced back with ties for 11th and 13th at tournaments earlier this month.

“When I’m healthy, I can compete with the best,” Pendrith said.

Nate Lashley, who won his first and only PGA Tour title in Detroit four years ago, shot a 68 after getting an anti-inflammatory shot in his right foot.

“I’m having surgery next week,” he said, adding he will need four to six weeks to recover.

Mark Hubbard was also four shots off the lead after a topsy-turvy round with four birdies, two bogeys and an ace on the par-3, 216-yard 11th hole.

Hubbard dropped his club and his head after hitting his tee shot.

“That’s embarrassing,” he said while the ball was in flight.

The ball landed on the front of the green and rolled toward the cup before going around it and dropping in.

“That’s probably going to end up being one of my favorite hole-in-ones,” said Hubbard, who has nine career aces.

The field includes five players in the top 20, doubling last week’s total in Minnesota, and Finau was the only one of them to fare well in the first round.

Defending FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay, ranked No. 4 in the world, and 13th-ranked Will Zalatoris both 70. Cameron Young, ranked 19th, was another shot back and 20th-ranked Max Homa had a 72.

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