Tony Finau ends victory drought in playoff over Cameron Smith
Finau also had to hold off Jon Rahm, currently the best player in the world, to pick up the win
There are a number of ways Tony Finau’s run of 143 consecutive tournaments since his last victory could have ended, but few would have been as meaningful as how he won The Northern Trust on Monday at Liberty National Golf Club. Finau took down one of the best PGA Tour fields in the last decade and held off the hottest player in the world — who also happens to be the No. 1 player in the world — in the process. And he did it all in a playoff.
Finau bookended his win at the Puerto Rico Open, which was being played opposite a WGC event, 1,975 days ago with a one-hole playoff win over Cameron Smith after firing a 65 in a postponed final round. Both Finau and Smith ended regulation at 20 under while Jon Rahm, currently No. 1 in the world and on one of the great heaters of his career, faded to 18 under to lose a tournament he led for four and a half straight days.
Finau’s closing kick was magnificent. He shot a 30 on the back nine that included a 3-foot eagle and three other birdies. It almost got away from him on the final hole when his approach shot came up short in a bunker, but he put a 6-footer right in the heart and got into a playoff with Smith that ended about 5 seconds after it began when Smith blasted his tee shot out of bounds. Finau made a straightforward par, and five years’ worth of murmuring about his ability to shut down events was silenced.
It was not unwarranted, either. Finau had finished in the top 10 at PGA Tour events 39 times since his win at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. According to a Data Golf tool that measures how a player performs under pressure in final rounds, Finau would have been expected to win 3.8 times based on how he entered final rounds since the start of 2015. His Sunday performances dropped that expected value down to 2.6. That’s not great, especially since he won just one of them.
That’s all over now, though, and there are multiple nails in the coffin. The first is holding off Rahm. The second is doing it with a monster close. The third is shutting it down in an event that had one of the strongest fields of the last decade.
“All I know is I’m a lot different player than I was then,” said Finau of going over five years between victories. “I’m a lot better player and I feel like it’s been a long time coming, but I also feel like you have to earn everything out here. Nothing’s given to you and I was able to earn this win, and you know, hopefully the future continues to be bright. I’m playing some great golf. We’ve got two big tournaments in front of me, so I’m going to enjoy this one. I’m playing great golf. I feel like I can go on a run, so why not continue right on to next week.”