‘A lot of close ones’: Tony Finau notches sixth second-place finish in last two years

May 27, 2019

When Tony Finau poured in a six-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole at the Charles Schwab Challenge on Sunday, he busted out of a three-way tie for second, making himself a lot of money in the process. Finau ended up alone in second, four shots behind eventual winner Kevin Na. In the last two years, runner-up has become a familiar—and bittersweet—finish for Finau.

“Just at a point in my career where I’m ready for the next win. I strongly feel that way. This is a huge stride for me,” he said after his round.

The remarks reflected the natural conflict in a second-place result. Obviously, notching second places on the PGA Tour is a hugely impressive (and lucrative) accomplishment. Finau took home $788,400 for his week’s efforts. That’s more than he earned for a second place finish at last fall’s Hero World Challenge, where he earned $400,000. But it’s still less than he brought home for runner-ups at the 2018 Northern Trust Open, where he finished four shots behind Bryson DeChambeau and collected $972,000, or last fall’s WGC-HSBC Champions, where he lost to Xander Schauffele in extra holes but earned $1.08 million.

In all, Finau has finished second six times since the beginning of the 2017-18 PGA Tour season, but has not won during that stretch. Close calls at the Safeway, the Genesis, and the four aforementioned events have jumped his world ranking to No. 13 but left him hungry for more. Finau’s lone Tour win came at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, an off-field event opposite the WGC-Match Play. He’s keenly aware of that.

“I have dreams and goals for myself, expectations for myself. I feel like I can win many times on the PGA Tour. I’m at a point in my career where I’m just chasing the next one,” he said.

There’s the mentally challenging side to coming so close and not quite finishing it off, the sense that, to quote Dale Earnhardt, “Second place is just first loser.” There’s plenty of data showing that Olympic bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists.

But this is golf, where runners-up get handsomely rewarded for their near-misses, and get to chase that next win as soon as the very next week. Finau has become one of the steadiest golfers in the world: since the start of 2017, he’s made 61 of 68 cuts, notching 23 top-10s in the process, including his seconds.

Finau made some changes entering the Charles Schwab Challenge, which seemed to pay off immediately. He changed up his putter specs and switched to the claw grip, rocketing up the putting stats in the process.

“I felt great with the claw and made some putts early. Unfortunately wasn’t able to make too many late, but I was happy with the progress I made this week in my putting,” he said. Finau’s 2019 has been a model of consistency, making 11 cuts in 12 starts but his putter has kept him from contending most weeks. He hopes the latest changes have him in a better position than ever.

“When that times comes, I know it’s not a question of if, but just when. I gave myself a chance this week and hopefully that’s a sign of things to come the rest of the season.”

Finau returns to competition at this week’s Memorial Tournament, where he’ll give the claw another go — and chase that elusive top spot, too.

Tony Finau finished second place at the Charles Schwab Challenge — again.
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