Augusta, Ga. • Tony Finau will play the biggest round of his life Sunday after shooting arguably the best round of his 29 years, a sizzling 8-under 64 — narrowly missing a chance to tie the all-time record of 63 at Augusta National — on a sun-baked Saturday afternoon.
Finau is knotted with Tiger Woods at 11-under through three rounds, two shots behind Masters leader Francesco Molinari.
It will be the second final grouping of a major in the last four for the Utahn.
And playing with Tiger, with a green jacket on the line? Could he ask for a better script?
Finau calls the grouping “unbelievable” and “something that I’ve dreamed of for a long time,” Finau said. “As a kid, I always wanted to compete against him. ... I’ve dreamed of playing in the final group with him in a major championship.”
Well, Finau lucked out because he caught a trending Woods at arguably his best major championship venue. Four green jackets for Woods trails only six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus for most all time.
Finau’s coach Boyd Summerhays, who joined Tony’s news conference Saturday, is happy for Finau and his pairing with his idol.
“I think it’s great for him,” Summerhays said. “He is excited for sure.”
Finau should be excited because he’s coming into this career-defining final round playing unbelievable golf.
“The putter came through today when I needed it, and (I had) a couple par saves coming in as well that were huge,” Finau said.
Finau’s caddie Greg Bodine is very confident in his player.
“Saturday’s 64 felt kind of normal,” Bodine said. “He goes on runs like that quite often, just happened to be at Augusta National.”
So what will be one of the keys to making a good run at the coveted green jacket Sunday?
“You have to putt well to win major championships,” Finau said, “I know that from experience in the past, putting myself in contention, and I was able to do that today, and I need the putter to be working (Sunday).”
Finau played in the final group during last year’s U.S. Open with Daniel Berger, fighting off a cold start which included three bogeys in the first four holes. But he bounced back to make five birdies on the day and ultimately shot 2-over 72, giving himself a late, outside chance to catch an uncatchable Brooks Koepka.
“He fell off early, but by hole 15 he had a putt to tie for the lead,” Summerhays said. “He had a legitimate shot, and he was one of the last guys to really have a chance to catch Brooks.”
What’s happened since then?
Just a torrid stretch through the 2018 summer and fall where he nearly won the FedEx Cup Playoffs and played his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Summerhays says he’s always told Finau, from the days they first decided to work together at Davis Park Golf Course in 2014, that he’s got the makeup to be a top player at the highest level.
“Tony had a mental toughness before we ever got together, it made me believe in what he could be,” Summerhays said.
“I told him there was no doubt he would be a top ten player in the world and that everybody that can get there can be a number one player in the world,” Summerhays said.
So when did major championships begin to be discussed?
“About three years ago and when he got on the Ryder Cup team and played so well, it became a reality where it’s like “Tony’s in a room where all the guys are major championship winners, ‘I’m one of these guys, why not me?’ ”
In past Masters the final group typically tees off about 3 pm. This year with bad weather expected in the afternoon, Finau will have no time to waste in the morning.
“I remember when I was in the final group last year at Shinnecock, just how much time, it was like the longest day of my life and I still hadn’t teed off,” Finau said. “I do think that is pretty cool, but no matter what, when it’s time to tee it up tomorrow, there’s going to be guys on our heels, and ... I’m going to have to play good golf.”
Summerhays isn’t worried about how Finau starts out of the blocks, even if it is only his second Masters.
“It doesn’t matter how he starts tomorrow, he’s never out of it because he’s a fighter, he just keeps fighting,” Summerhays said.
“He’ll fight tomorrow and give it everything he can to win the green jacket.”
For Kelepi Finau, Tony’s father, it was an emotional day. Sunday will be as well.
“Tony having a chance to play in the last grouping on Sunday at Augusta,” Kelepi Finau said, his voice cracking. “it’s so unreal.”
He added, “Yeah I remember practicing with [my sons] as kids and telling them that one day they’ll be able to play with Tiger and have the opportunities."
How did this opportunity happen coming from such humble beginnings on the west side of Salt Lake City?
“It’s hard to explain,” Kelepi Finau said. “What a wonderful country. And if you believe in the principal of gratitude and hard work, you can achieve anything in this country.”