DETROIT – We haven’t seen this kind of tearing in the upper Midwest since Commodore Oliver Perry in the War of 1812.
Riding the momentum of his comeback win at the 3M Open last week in Minnesota, Tony Finau played the most flawless golf of his career and won the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday for his third PGA Tour victory in his 25 last starts. An under-67 final at the Detroit Golf Club gave the Utah native a five-shot win over the trio of world No. 4 Patrick Cantlay and rookies Cameron Young and Taylor Pendrith.
For the past two weeks, the famously likeable Finau, 32, has been ruthless against his peers. He’s a combined 43-under par and is starting to deliver on the promise he made through a tantalizing string of near misses, including eight second-place finishes, since winning the Puerto Rico Open in 2016. He has suffered a bogey, that of the 65th hole of the tournament, breaking the event’s 72-hole record with a total of 26 under 262, one better than Nate Lashley’s effort in the inaugural edition in 2019.
Although coming off an impressive win, Finau felt like he still had something to prove this week. Mission accomplished. In fact, he completed two missions, as one of his goals this season was to record multiple wins.
“After bogeying the 18th hole [at the 3M Open] I had kind of a sour taste in my mouth, and I think that just gave me extra motivation to get back at it this week and prove to myself what kind of champion I am and birdie the stretch when you really need it,” he explained in his post-round press conference. “So that’s all I tried to do. When I got to the 14th tee, my goal was to birdie 14 and 17. If I could do that, I knew I was going to win the golf tournament, and I was able to do it. I was just proud of how I finished. I thought that this week I was able to prove myself the champion that I feel myself to be.
Cantlay, the defending FedEx Cup champion, made a first run with five birdies in his first eight holes on his way to his 10th top 10 top 10 finish on the tour of the 2021-22 season. He carded a six-under 66 and posted 21-under 267, while Young birdied on four of his last six holes for a 68 and Pendrith had a round 72 up and down.
Young further cemented his credentials for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year with his fifth runner-up finish to join six others for most in a season over the past 40 years. The New Yorker has seven top-three finishes — five in his last eight starts, including second behind Cameron Smith at The Open Championship in his previous outing.
“I would be lying if I said it was easy to just watch other people win,” said Young, 25. “Obviously today Tony beat us all from afar, but it’s not fun to be this close so often and not have it. Overall I think it’s a good thing. It proves that I can at least get on with it. Yeah, I think overall it’s a good thing, but it’s definitely a little frustrating that I haven’t won any yet.
Pendrith, who started the day tied at the top of the standings with Finau, couldn’t keep up the blistering pace of his first three runs. Playing alongside Finau in the final duo for the second day in a row, the Canada native recorded his best career result in just his third event after taking 12 weeks off with a broken rib in his right side.
“Yeah, it was tough, I couldn’t do anything and I didn’t get off to the best start like I’ve had the last three days, but I hung on,” said Pendrith, 31, a bit downcast despite a personal best of $635,600 in consolation prizes. “You know, in the middle of the round I hit some really nice iron shots and just couldn’t get anything down…I just lost my feel for the speed of my putts. “
Finau, who collected $1.512 million, twice knocked out Pendrith on the turn, going out two-under 34, capped by an 11-foot save in the ninth that kept his bogey-free streak alive. When he rolled in a 21-footer on the 10 for a birdie, his lead increased to three shots, and although he bogeyed the 11 for his only 72-hole foul, Finau bounced back with a 31-footer that caused a fist pump. Pendrith, meanwhile, bogged the same hole, and the result was no longer in doubt.
After starting with an under-64 eight that hit all 18 greens in regulation time for the first time in his PGA Tour career, Finau would only say he was playing with confidence, buoyed by his performance the previous week, but didn’t mention anything about being in a zone or even playing relatively stress-free. “I hate to say stress free in this game,” he said. “I hate to say easy.”
But the nimble 6-foot-4 veteran who generates power with ease made it look easy from start to finish. He hit 46 of 56 fairways, 66 greens in regulation (tied for third most on tour since 1980) and sank 338 feet of putts. He led the field in strokes won/tee to the green and in putts per green in regulation time. It was a complete performance for a player who will move up to 13th in the world.
“Evolving,” he said, is an apt description of his game. After long-range hunting experience he didn’t need, he focused on strengthening his short game and shots. rolls. He also took note of his thought process and how his body feels when faced with shots in the heat of battle and tried to apply those lessons to the opportunities that follow.
“These are all things that I have experienced over the past two years and worked extremely hard on, so now enjoying the success that I am, it’s all in part because I just looking into my eyes and knowing that I’m not as good as I can be and addressing the parts of my game that need to be elevated for me to be a great player,” he said. “I think that’s what you see the last few weeks of me is that i’ve been able to put myself in similar situations in the past but my game is sharper and i’m stronger and i’m just a better player to be able to conclude the business and take control of golf tournaments.”
Finau contested 142 events before adding a second win to his tally at last year’s Northern Trust and then needed just 23 more to claim his third. He is now the first player to win consecutive weeks in the regular season since Brendon Todd in 2019. Finau was believed to be just too nice to win. He’s always one of the nicest on the tour. He has just learned to apply his immense talents in an emphatic and devoid of empathy manner.
“You’ve been there for a lot of tough defeats. I put myself in situations to win before, I couldn’t do it, but I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I’ve always been like that. I’ve always had hope and faith that things will work out if I keep working hard and dedicating myself. But I’m proud of how I’ve fought through adversity throughout my career. They say a winner is just a loser who hasn’t stopped trying, and that’s me for 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 keep going.
Don’t be surprised if he keeps moving forward.