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Golf: Lehi’s Tony Finau stays in contention at Utah Championship

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lehi resident Tony Finau smiles as he just misses a birdie putt during first round play in the Web.Com golf tour event at Willow Creek Country Club in Sandy, Utah Thursday, July 10, 2014.

By Jay Drew

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 11 2014 07:34PM
Updated Jul 11, 2014 11:08PM

Sandy • After making a clutch, bogey-saving putt on the 18th hole that did more for his psyche than perhaps anything else, local favorite Tony Finau signed his scorecard, kissed his wife and hugged his adoring children, 2-year-old Jraice and 1-year-old Leilene.

Then the 24-year-old Lehi resident who graduated from Salt Lake City’s West High and turned pro when he was just 17 openly admitted it.

"I am definitely nervous," Finau said. "I am not going to shy away from [saying] that, but I think it has given me more energy than anything else."

Raw nerves notwithstanding, Finau has put himself into decent shape to contend this weekend at the Tour’s Utah Championship at Willow Creek Country Club. He followed Thursday’s opening-round 65 with a solid 67 on Friday and is tied for fourth at 10-under 132, just three shots behind leader Andres Gonzales.

Like he did Thursday, Finau used his prodigious length to conquer most of Willow Creek’s five par-5s, and made just one bogey — on No. 18 when his tee shot trickled into the pond in front of the green.

"That was huge," he said of the uphill 8-footer that plopped in as dozens of supporters roared with approval. "I fought all day, and that wasn’t a very good swing on the last hole. I tried to hit a choke [7-iron], and kind of decelerated."

Finau got off to a brilliant start with three birdies on his first four holes. For about five minutes, the scoreboards around Willow Creek incorrectly credited him with a double-eagle 2 on the par-5 12th hole, and temporarily had him in the lead at 14-under, causing the small gallery around the 18th green to buzz.

Alas, he really only made a birdie on the hole. A good opportunity to birdie the last par-5 was damaged when his tee shot found a fairway bunker, keeping him from reaching the green in two. The tee shot errors on 17 and 18 kept him from being in the lead group on Saturday morning, but he’s not complaining.

"A good position going into the weekend is all I can ask for," Finau said.

The 31-year-old Gonzales, who grew up in a Seattle suburb and played collegiately at UNLV, took control of the tournament with a 62 on Thursday and stayed hot on Friday with an opening-hole eagle en route to a 67.

Former BYU golfer Zac Blair, playing in his second-straight Tour event, made his second straight cut with a 7-under 135 and is tied for 24th. Blair’s scorecard included three 2s as he birdied three of the course’s six par-3s, a rare feat. A double-bogey on No. 13 marred a fantastic round.

Former BYU golfer Clay Ogden, a Monday qualifier, shot a 70 on Friday and finished at 1-under. Provo’s Chris Moody finished at 1-over.

Scott Pinckney, who grew up in Orem before his family moved to Arizona, is tied for 15th at 8-under.

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