Golf's Cannonball Run
The best part of those old "Cannonball Run" movies is the beginning, when we meet the drivers, hangers-on and financial backers, a hodgepodge of cool cars, karate, Captain Chaos and a priest, with Burt Reynolds' inimitable laugh and signature mustache as leitmotif.
So it is with "The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas," where 2004 U.S. Open darling Spencer Levin and two long-hitting, teen-age brothers from Salt Lake City headlined a field of 40 players with wildly different backgrounds who hooked up for qualifying rounds Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I can't wait to get out there," said Gipper Finau, one of the teen-agers, who turned pro for this event. "I think I have a great chance at winning this thing."
Alas, the Gipper lost his second-round match and was eliminated when he shot 77 in the 20-man consolation bracket. Tony, his older brother, won his first two matches to advance, then got on a plane to attend his high school graduation ceremonies Wednesday night.
Qualifying rounds whittled the field down to 12 men who will try to control their nerves for 36 holes of stroke play next week, when the winner will collect the gaudiest first prize in golf, $2 million, on Friday, June 8. The tournament will air on Fox on June 9 and 10.
In other results, Levin lost on the 19th hole of his first-round match and had to try to make it through the consolation bracket, but he shot a 70 and was out. Erik Compton and Rick Rhoden shot 67 and 68, respectively, to get through the consolation bracket, recoup their entry fee and crack next week's 12-man field. Rhoden, the 54-year-old former Major League Baseball pitcher, beat Colby Beckstrom in a two-hole, sudden-death playoff.
By winning his first two matches, Tony Finau earned back his $50,000 entry fee (the brothers were staked by a Park City businessman, according to the Salt Lake Tribune) plus another $50,000 and the potential for more next week.
Three players from Las Vegas seemed to enjoy a homefield advantage; Chris Berry, Kenneth Jarner and Scott Piercy went a combined 6-0 to advance.
Gipper and Tony Finau are Stockton-and-Malone famous in Utah golf circles. They've combined to win the last three state high school titles by a total of 19 strokes. Tony won the Utah State Amateur at 16 last summer. Two months later Gipper, having just turned 16, shot a 9-under-par 63 to Monday-qualify for the Nationwide tour's Utah Energy Solutions Championship, where he became the youngest player to make a cut on that circuit.
He's advanced to U.S. Open sectional qualifying next week and will tee it up in Denver with David Duval, among others, in hopes of punching his ticket to Oakmont.
Joining Tony Finau in the final from the winner's bracket Ã¢â‚¬" and winning $100,000 Ã¢â‚¬" were:
• Chris Berry from Las Vegas, who defeated J.T. Kohut from Simi Valley, Calif., 1-up
• Ron Faria from Sag Harbor, N.Y., who defeated Shawn Strohman from Meadowlakes, Texas, 7&6
• Kenneth Jarner from Las Vegas, who defeated former NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver from Shreveport, La., 1-up
• Travis Johnson from Bellflower, Calif., who defeated Robert Sowards from Dublin, Ohio, 2&1
• Randy Leen from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., who defeated Alex Rodger from Fort Worth, Texas, 5&4
• Scott Piercy from Las Vegas, who defeated 16-year-old Gipper Finau from Salt Lake City, 5&4
• Byron Smith from Palm Desert, Calif., who defeated Lee Stroever from Jupiter, Fla., 4&3
• Kevin Streelman from Winfield, Ill., who defeated Erik Compton from Miami, 1-up.
• Nate Whitson from Ventura, Calif., who defeated Tim Weinhart from Suwanee, Ga., 1-up.
Tony Finau got to the second round by rallying from 2-down through eight holes to beat 48-year-old John Wilson, 2&1, Tuesday. Finau frequently hit his drives 60-80 yards past Rhoden on Wednesday.
The 12 players who made it through will compete in a 36-hole, stroke-play playoff June 7-8 at the Tom Fazio-designed Wynn Las Vegas Golf Course, for the $2 million winner's share. The two wild cards from the consolation bracket win back their entry fees. Once in the final, it is winner-take-all.