The close friendship between Jon Rahm and Tony Finau could be felt on the final hole Sunday at the Mexico Open at Vidanta, epitomized by a heartfelt embrace just before Finau putted out to solidify a three-stroke victory over the recent Masters champion.
Rahm and Finau play out of the same club in Arizona – Silverleaf GC – and have had some recent final-round duels on the PGA TOUR, including Sunday at Vidanta Vallarta. But despite Rahm’s recent resume of big-time wins and big-time tournaments, it was “Big Tone” who topped the world No. 1 in a script-flip from a year ago, when Finau finished second to Rahm in Mexico.
“’I believe (Arnold Palmer) said, ‘The path to success is always under construction,’ and that couldn’t be any more true,” Rahm said. “It’s a great reminder that what you’ve done means absolutely nothing; you still have to go out there and do it.”
Finau finished 24 under at Vidanta Vallarta, three strokes clear of Rahm for his sixth PGA TOUR title. He did indeed ‘go out there and do it.’
Finau held a two-shot advantage through 54 holes and birdied three of his first seven holes to keep the chasers at bay in Sunday’s finale. He added two more birdies on the back nine before cruising home.
“Very happy just with the four rounds I was able to put together,” Finau said. “And I knew today was going to be a tall task going against (Rahm) with the form that he’s in. I was really put to the test and came out on top, which feels great.”
With his win, Finau has back-to-back multi-win seasons on TOUR for the first time in his career. And he becomes just the fourth player so far this season with multiple wins including Max Homa, Scottie Scheffler and Rahm – who has four titles already. Homa and Scheffler have two apiece.
This was Finau’s fourth PGA TOUR title in his last 18 months, but it didn’t come easy.
“It seems no matter how many shots you’re ahead, you’re just so focused on getting in the clubhouse to win the golf tournament. When I hit that third shot on 18, I was like all right, I don’t think I can screw this up now,” Finau said with a smile.
Finau was also able to hold off a hard-charging Brandon Wu, who held a share of the lead after starting off Sunday 5 under through seven holes. Wu bogeyed No. 8, however, and made a costly double bogey on the par-4 10th – which played as the most difficult hole of the week for the second year in a row.
Ironically enough, last season’s Mexico Open leaderboard was Rahm in first with Finau and Wu tied for second (along with Kurt Kitayama). This year it was Finau in first with Rahm in second and Wu in third.
“I think going toe-to-toe with two of the best players in the world is good,” said Wu. “It’s great experience, good to kind of feel the emotions, know how to stay calm in the moment and stay focused on myself.”
For Finau, he experienced a litany of emotions a year ago after busting a winless draught with back-to-back victories in the summertime at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic. Finau won the Cadence Bank Houston Open in November, a week after missing the cut at the World Wide Technology Championship – his only early exit of the season.
Finau’s last four margins of victory: three, five, four, and now three shots, respectively. Those wins came after his first two were in playoffs.
“My mindset on Sundays, I think, has just changed,” Finau said of what has changed since the playoff victories. “You never get comfortable with the lead. That’s my nature anyway is to be an aggressive player. I always have been that way and so Sundays are starting to shape up better for me since I’ve been in contention, but I think I just have learned a lot.”
One could sense that another breakthrough from Finau this season was coming.
Tony Finau, who tied for second a year ago on the heels of a course-record 63 in the final round, started this year’s edition of the Mexico Open with rounds of 65-64 and had a one-shot lead as Friday’s morning wave was ending.
His runner-up finish here last year was his first top-10 finish in nine months on TOUR. After that he would go on to finish T4 at the Charles Schwab Challenge and runner-up at the RBC Canadian Open before winning back-to-back starts at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic. His victory at the Cadence Bank Houston Open in the fall portion of this season was his third win in a span of seven starts.
“This was a place where a lot of things changed for me last season,” Finau said. “I was able to post a second-place finish and just have a nice final round, make some putts that were very important and then it carried me into a very nice finish to last season.”
So far at this season’s Mexico Open, Finau has made just two bogeys in 36 holes and sits at 13 under. He opened Friday on the back nine and recorded five birdies – including three in a row. He added three more birdies on Nos. 5-7 before bogeying the par-4 eighth, his penultimate hole of the day.
While Finau’s tee-to-green game has been the elite-of-the-elite so far this season, he said his putting is the one area where there has been ebbs and flows.
So far, so good, this week, however. Finau is inside the top 10 in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, Off-the-Tee and Putting through 36 holes. He said he did some “great” putting work with his coach last week and it’s all clicked so far at Vidanta Vallarta.
“Sometimes you’ve got to ride the waves with your putter throughout a season. I haven’t putted it great statistically over the last couple months, but things change fast,” Finau said.
“I played really nicely over the last couple days, was able to capitalize with the putter on shots that I hit pretty close. That was probably the biggest story, hitting it nicely, but being able to capitalize with the putter is very important out here and I was able to do that over the last couple days.”
Although Finau needed a hefty charge up the leaderboard in the final round a year ago to notch a good result, this time around he’s off to as good a start as he could ask for. Finau’s family loves this resort, he said Thursday with a smile, so he’ll hit the pool Friday afternoon to get refreshed and ready to go for another weekend run at a PGA TOUR title.
“After 36 holes I’m playing nicely, find myself at the top. With my experience, we’re only halfway, there’s so much golf to be played. You always want to say that you have what it takes to win a golf tournament. I think luckily for me, I’ve done that a few times over the last year,” Finau said. “But every week has its own challenges, every day has its own challenges, so this is not a time to get ahead of myself.”
VALLARTA, Mexico — Austin Smotherman already has his name on the Mexico Open trophy. He finished his round Thursday as though he’d love to see it on there again, closing with four straight birdies for an 8-under 63 and a one-shot lead over Erik van Rooyen and Tano Goya.
Masters champion Jon Rahm, who won the Mexico Open at Vidanta for his only 2022 PGA Tour title a year ago, had five birdies on his last 11 holes to overcome a sluggish start for a 67.
Smotherman is winless on the PGA TOUR. He won the Mexico Open in 2018 on a different golf course — it was held in Tijuana that year — and when it was part of the PGA TOUR Latinoamerica schedule.
Even so, the Mexico Open dates to 1944. His name is on the trophy with Ben Crenshaw, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Bobby Locke and Roberto De Vicenzo.
“I mean, still get a little bit of some goosebumps thinking about it,” Smotherman said. “Just the reception, winning an event like that, the Mexico Open, which has such a deep history. There are names on that trophy that are in the Hall of Fame.
“A national open anywhere is very special.”
Smotherman played bogey-free at Vidanta Vallarta. He missed only three greens on a gorgeous morning. The last time was on his final hole, the par-3 ninth, and he chipped in for his eighth birdie of the round.
Van Rooyen also had a big finish, playing his final five holes in 4 under. That included an eagle on the par-4 15th when he holed out from 141 yards. He also had a pair of birdies on the pars 5 on the back nine.
His best moment might have been a par on the 10th. Standing over the shot with a 4-iron, the South African backed off and said, “Bees! Bees! Bees!” Before long, Chez Reavie and Francesco Molinari and the caddies hit the turf to avoid a swarm of bees.
“I just told my caddie, ‘Bees, bees, bees.’ And he looks at me like I’m crazy,” van Rooyen said. “So I dropped down, then he sees them, he dropped down. Frankie and Chez, they look at me like I’m nuts and then 30 seconds later the bees just went right at them. It’s funny, but certainly don’t want to get stung by those bad boys.”
Goya played bogey-free and finished with a birdie from left of the green on the par-5 18th.
Tony Finau was among five players at 65, and one of them felt just as good as Smotherman. Raul Pereda of Mexico, who played college golf at Jacksonville University, made his PGA TOUR debut as a sponsor exemption in his national Open.
Pereda missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th but had no complaints about his first time playing on the PGA TOUR.
His coach at Jacksonville, Mike Blackburn, sent him a text ahead of his first round to enjoy every shot as it comes. He followed the plan perfectly.
“I’m going to have a cold beer after this round today with my parents and just keep it very simple,” Pereda said. “I don’t think I need to get ahead of myself. It’s just like any other sanctioned event for me. It’s 18 holes a day, and just 18 chances for birdie, and just commit to every shot.”
Rahm is playing for the second time in three weeks since his Masters victory. His start was less than ideal in the best of the weather. He twice failed to get up-and-down from just off the green, missing par putts from the 6-foot range.
But his round started to turn when he took an aggressive line over the water and left of the pin to about 7 feet on the par-3 17th and holed the putt for one of only two birdies on that hole in the first round.
He finished with a 25-foot birdie putt, his third birdie putt of 15 feet or longer.
“Those first 13 holes we had virtually no wind, about as easy conditions as it can get. I wish I would have taken advantage of it more,” Rahm said. “I’m happy I played as good as I did on the back nine and capped it off with the putt on the last hole.”