Around this time a year ago, the pervasive narrative surrounding Tony Finau was that of a PGA Tour star who just couldn’t find a way to shut down. Time and time again, the Utah native would load up the weekend leaderboards only to come up short in the end.
“They say a winner is just a loser who keeps trying, and that’s me at a T,” he said. “How many times do I lose? »
The answer? Well, let’s put it this way: he hasn’t lost much these days.
After winning just once in his first 188 career starts, Finau now finds himself on the heels of back-to-back wins at the 3M Open and the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Add to that his decisive win in the FedEx Cup opener last season, and the Salt Lake City resident has found the winner’s circle three times in his last 25 starts.
In other words, the story has changed.
“I’ve put myself in situations to win before, I haven’t been able to do that, but I’m very optimistic,” Finau said. “I’ve always been like that. I’ve always had hope and faith that things will turn out if I keep working hard and putting in.
“I challenge myself every week to exceed what I feel capable of; by that I mean my emotions, those obstacles that you face in a tournament. I’ve proven myself in the last two weeks that I’ve done that and I’ve won golf tournaments. I’m proud of how I’ve fought through adversity throughout my career and now I’m a back-to-back champion. That’s what’s happening.
At the 3M Open, he erased a five-stroke deficit with 11 holes to play after overnight leader Scott Piercy tripled the 14th hole. It was much smoother a week later as the 32-year-old earned a five-stroke triumph and a tournament record 26-under 262 overall.
Finau hit a career-best 66 greens in that second victory, which also marked the third-most by a winner on the PGA Tour since 1980. Aaron Wise and Hale Irwin tied that feat at Byron Nelson 2018 and at the 1981 Sony Open, respectively, while Peter Jacobsen holds the record with 69 greens in regulation at the 1995 Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Willie Wood hit 67 greens en route to the 1996 Sanderson Farms Championship.
His accuracy earned Finau a differential of more than 4.65 strokes over the field average, his biggest difference in a PGA Tour event. He barely surpassed the career high he set a week prior at the 3M Open (plus-4.37) and safely broke his next best mark of plus-3.70 (St. Jude Championship 2021) and plus-2.73, set at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, site of his first Tour win.
Xander does it too
But Finau wasn’t the only player to make significant moves in July. Although his triumphs haven’t come in consecutive weeks, Xander Schauffele has also managed to find the winner’s circle in back-to-back appearances.
After winning the Travelers Championship at the end of June, the former gold medalist crossed the pond and did it all again on his next start at the Scottish Open. He became the third player to have at least three wins this season (Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns are the others) and is one of three players to have back-to-back starts this year (Scheffler and Finau).
But how Schauffele did it may be the most impressive aspect. The San Diego native trailed by 11 strokes after the first round, marking the largest 18-hole deficit overcame by a PGA Tour winner in a four-round event in the past 39 years. Seven other players rallied from 10-shot deficits — most recently Webb Simpson at the 2020 Phoenix Open — but no one overcame Schauffele’s chances.
“Overall, I’m playing one of the best golf courses of my life and enjoying playing really well,” Schauffele said. “There are many times [when] the professionals play very well but don’t get everything out of it, and I feel like I got the most out of my game.”
Together, Schauffele and Finau became the fifth and six players to win consecutive tournaments on the Tour since the start of the 2016-17 season, joining Patrick Cantlay, Brendon Todd, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas.
Cam double dips
Being able to call yourself the Players Champion is one of golf’s most prestigious honors. The biggest names in the sport have all done it, from Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy.
But add an Open Championship victory and you’re in unprecedented territory.
That’s exactly what Australian Cameron Smith did in July at golf’s oldest championship, edging out McIlroy at St Andrews to win the Claret Jug. He became the second player in history to win The Players and Open Championship in the same year, joining none other than Nicklaus. He too also won his major at the historic St Andrews after winning The Players earlier in 1978.
It wasn’t Smith’s only achievement that week. No winner had ever closed with a 64 at St Andrews before he did, while his final score of 20 under 268 set a new Old Course record. He equaled the lowest par score in major championship history – Henrik Stenson shot 20 under at Royal Troon in 2016 – and his back-nine 30 was the lowest ever by an Open winner Championship.
“I was beaten by the best player this week,” McIlroy said. “Going out and shooting 64 to win the Open Championship at St Andrews is one hell of a performance. Hats off to Cam.”
Smith is the first Australian to win the Claret Jug since 1993 and the first to do so at St Andrews since Kel Nagle fended off Arnold Palmer in 1960.
“These guys are great players. They weren’t going to give it to me. I had to take it,” Smith said. “It was a good thing I was behind. My mindset would have been a little different coming in, especially on that back nine, if I was up front.”