AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | It wasn’t until the fourth inquiry Friday afternoon at Augusta National that Tony Finau was asked the question that has become his second shadow.
You probably know the one as well as Finau does.
It goes like this: “For all the things you’ve done in your career, you still only have one win five years ago … ”
This time, it came a few minutes after Finau had put together a sharp-looking second-round 66, eight shots better than his opening round, and it put him in the Masters mix again midway through a tournament that has an intriguingly crowded leaderboard, three off Justin Rose’s lead.
As Finau took questions in the palatial media center interview room/television studio Friday, his tournament statistics glowed from large screens on opposite walls. The most striking stat was the one at the top – Finau’s best Masters finishes being T5 in 2018 and 2019.
If Finau has an M.O., it’s coming close, particularly in big events. He has seven top-10 finishes in his last 11 major championship starts. Finau has a top-five finish in all four majors but he’s still chasing a trophy.
If his answer Friday sounded familiar, well, so is the question.
“It keeps me hungry, it keeps me humble, and I definitely know that I need a big win for me to feel like … ,” Finau said, pausing.
“I’ve had a good career up to this point. I’ve had a lot of close calls, and I do think I’ve had a really successful career, but not quite a winning career, and I think that comes from winning a big one.”
There is a twist to the Masters angle because Finau was in the final pairing two years ago when Tiger Woods won his fifth green jacket, capping the comeback of comebacks. Until the 12th hole that Sunday, it could have been Finau’s Masters.
He was hanging tough but, like Francesco Molinari and Brooks Koepka who were also battling Woods, he put his tee shot into Rae’s Creek at the 12th and, from there, Tiger owned the day.
Finau was a witness to history but he left thinking about what might have been, balancing the good with the not so good.
“I know Justin (Rose) played an amazing round, and I knew it was quite bunched right around even par, so I thought if I could at least get back to right around even par and then work from there, I thought that would be a really good start for the weekend.” – Tony Finau
“(It was) a positive in that it was only my second Masters and to have had a really legitimate chance on that back nine to just taste what that is and what that feels like just in my second Masters I think is going to serve me well,” Finau said.
“But 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 and specifically on this Sunday on that back nine, my game was in a good place, felt like my mind was in a good place, and didn’t execute that shot on 12 and that ended up being the turnaround for me on the week.”
This year, Finau has flirted with adding a second trophy to the Puerto Rico Open hardware he captured five years ago. He took the 54-hole lead into the final round of the American Express in the California desert in January but got smoked by Si Woo Kim.
More painfully, Finau had a 7-foot birdie putt to win the Genesis Invitational on the first extra hole but missed and was beaten by Max Homa one hole later despite shooting the best score by two strokes in the final round.
It was Finau’s 36th top-10 finish since his lone win, easily the longest such streak on the PGA Tour.
There is still a long, grinding weekend ahead and if the scattered rain showers don’t arrive at Augusta National, the firm and fast conditions that marked the first two rounds will continue. That’s fine with Finau, who can launch it as high as anyone, which should help him hold the slick, hard greens.
He knows how quickly Augusta can bite. Finau double bogeyed the short par-4 third hole Thursday and had to work to scratch out an opening 74.
The work was still hard Friday but Finau got some early momentum with an eagle at the par-5 second then made three straight birdies starting at No. 8. He bogeyed the par-3 12th when his tee shot flew long and he failed to birdie the 13th when he short-sided himself on his second shot but otherwise, Finau sidestepped the drama on Friday.
“I feel really good especially after (Thursday’s) round,” Finau said. “A couple over wasn’t really what I was looking for. I knew the golf course was playing tough. But when you see yourself nine shots back, you’re like, well, how tough could it have really played. I know Justin (Rose) played an amazing round, and I knew it was quite bunched right around even par, so I thought if I could at least get back to right around even par and then work from there, I thought that would be a really good start for the weekend.
“I was able to push on the gas a lot more than that, make some putts and kind of get in some mojo on the back nine.”
Finau will have another chance this weekend to change both the questions and his answers.
Top photo: Courtesy Augusta National
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