Tony Finau studied a 4-foot putt on Augusta National Golf Club’s 18th green Friday afternoon, not needing a birdie to make the weekend rounds of the Masters.
He just needed to make something … anything … to reward himself at the end of a decent performance.
Finau delivered. His first birdie of the day came on his last hole, giving him some satisfaction as he completed a round that easily could have frustrated him. Finau’s injured ankle improved, his golf swing looked better and his score of 2-over-par 74 was much worse than his opening 68.
That’s golf. That’s Augusta National. That’s the Masters.
“You don’t have to miss by very much on this golf course,” said Finau, who believed he “didn’t get rewarded” for his play.
Even so, he’s tied for eighth place, and his continued strong play inspired 2015 winner Jordan Spieth to say, “He’s got the game to win major championships, no question.”
That’s the consolation of Finau’s shooting six strokes higher than the previous day. And being 2-under par through 36 holes in his first Masters appearance is an achievement in the context of a leaderboard that showed all kinds of destruction involving some big names taking place Friday.
Spieth matched Finau’s 74 after holding the first-round lead. Matt Kuchar, who started the day tied for second with Finau, posted a 75. So did Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson faded to a 79 and barely made the 36-hole cut.
Framed by some of those numbers, Finau’s 74 looks pretty good. Mix in the ankle injury from his hole-in-one celebration in Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest that forced him to alter his setup and swing in the first round, and he’ll take being around the top 10 at this stage.
The West High School graduate had just as many good looks at birdies Friday as he did Thursday, when he made six of them. His biggest failing in the second round was not birdieing any of Augusta’s par-5 holes after going 4 for 4 in the first round.
Errant drives kept him from going for the green in two shots on Nos. 2 and 8. He was in almost exactly the same positions on Nos. 13 and 15 as the day before but just didn’t get and up and down for birdies this time. His palm-up gesture after a birdie try inexplicably stopped short of the hole on No. 13 summarized his day, with a bunch of other near-misses that either surprised or disappointed him or both.
That’s what made the putt of No. 18 so meaningful. After blasting a drive to the top of the hill and spinning a gap wedge to within 4 feet, he could been wondering what it ever would take to make a birdie. That’s not how professional golfers think, of course. “Short-term memory’s a big thing in this game,” Finau said.
So he remained confident, knocked the ball into the middle of the cup and grabbed it eagerly. Finau was relieved to get something out of a round that looked much better than a 74 to anyone who watched him play. His bogeys came on No. 1 after a drive into a fairway bunker for the second straight day, on No. 6 after a nice chip but a missed short putt and No. 11 after he chipped poorly.
Finau hit 13 greens in regulation Friday compared with nine Thursday, but he needed nine more putts (32) to complete the round but never three-putted. He just didn’t make anything while being convinced that he was striking the putts just as well in the second round.
“Man, it’s tricky,” he said about putting on Augusta National’s famous greens. “The subtle breaks, the speed.”
Nothing is subtle about a weather forecast that calls for wind, thunderstorms, likely delays and generally wild adventures for the golfers who advanced to Saturday’s round. Finau just is happy he’s getting healthy and can keep playing, having made the cut for the sixth time in his eight career starts in major tournaments. He wants to maximize his first Masters experience, whatever the weekend brings.