Tony Finau capped off a long but rewarding week in his fourth Open Championship at Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush with an impressive even par 71 on Sunday that kept him at 7-under, good for his best-ever finish in a major championship at solo third.
Ireland’s Shane Lowry won the Claret Jug at 15-under par while Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood — who like Finau has been knocking at the door in majors the last couple years — finished second at 9-under and two ahead of the West High alumnus.
The Royal & Ancient (R&A), which runs the championship, moved final-round tee times up a couple hours Sunday due to severe winds and rain. Though players posted some low scores in the morning, the weather took more effect in the afternoon with winds and gusts around 30 mph.
Finau’s 71 was better than every other player in the last nine groups, including major championship machine Brooks Koepka.
Finau finishing one ahead of Koepka at 6-under denied the superstar a chance at making history as the only player ever to finish in the top three in every major in a single season, according to PGA Tour Radio.
“I wasn’t trying to make birdies, par is a good score when you’re playing a golf course like this (with wind),” Finau said of his round. “I wasn’t trying to hit hero shots into the wind, downwind. I was hitting shots I know I can play. It ended up being a fantastic round.
Perseverance and perspective guided Finau on Sunday.
“I was just happy with the way I hung in there. I knew winning the championship was out of my grasp but I wanted to post as good a number as I could, then just keep fighting until the end, and I was able to do that.”
And fight he did. In links golf, especially with those testing conditions, you can lose a shot and post a high number in a blink. Just ask tournament favorite Rory McIlroy, who made a snowman on his first hole Thursday, or J.B. Holmes, who had a chance to win entering Sunday before an unfathomable 16-over 87 on Sunday that cost him approximately $700,000.
“Really proud of the way I played this week,” Finau said. “Close to my best finish in a major, on this venue is pretty cool.”
Finau knew the danger at Portrush and called his second shot on the 11th hole in the worst of the conditions the most demanding shot he had all week.
He pulled 2-iron from 228 yards with the wind blowing 30 mph from the left. Finau’s caddie, Greg Bodine, said Finau’s typical 2-irons that week were going around 280 yards after roll.
This one went about 200.
“I tried to hit a running hook,” Finau said, and he could not get up and down for par from short and right in the fescue. But he bounced back to birdie the next hole en route to his strong finish.
Finau said he’s seen worse conditions in his career only a couple other times than Sunday: The final round at St. Andrews in last year’s Alfred Dunhill Links, and at home in Utah.
“I’ve had some days at home, just being silly, blowing 50 and raining sideways, stuff like that,” Finau recalled.
Just not quite the same trophy on the line, but last week was yet another big milestone for Finau’s career.
“My game travels,” Finau said of his finish. “I continue to just prove to myself that one day I can win one of these (majors), no doubt.”
Golf Channel host Damon Hack feels the same way.
“Tony is building a very strong major championship resume, bit by bit, block by block,” Hack told The Tribune. “His ability to adapt to the quirks of links golf in general and Royal Portrush in particular bode well for his future. I can see a major coming his way in the next year or two.”
Adapt is also the word that NBC Sports golf analyst Mark Rolfing used in describing Finau.
“Consider how he adapted in the Ryder Cup in Paris when most of the Americans didn’t,” Rolfing said.
Finau went 2-1, capping the week off with a 6 and 4 rout of the hottest player to that point, Tommy Fleetwood, in Sunday singles match play. The win brought the Americans to within a point of Europe’s lead, but they would ultimately lose by seven.
“This quality of adaptability will serve him particularly well in the majors,” Rolfing said.
Finau entered last week’s Open missing three of his last four cuts, so in addition to playing a different style of golf overseas, the 29-year-old had to overcome some poor form.
And he did.
According to Bodine, the driver and Finau’s touch around the greens provided the key to the resurgent week.
“Driving and chipping was the key for sure,” Bodine said. “He drove it great, especially on Sunday.”
Finau’s versatility and high finish came as no surprise to his coach Boyd Summerhays who stayed in the states to cheer on his son Preston Summerhays who won the U.S. Junior Amateur.
“He locks in (during majors) and the tougher the course the better it is for him because he’s tough-minded and has a well-rounded game,” Summerhays said.
That well-rounded game includes two vital attributes that saw him through his three straight missed cuts last month.
“That’s what makes Tony special, that he has the patience and true confidence to withstand some low points,” Summerhays said.
The former Tour player called Finau’s third-place finish “huge.”
It also marked Finau’s final major start in his 20s as he turns 30 in September.
The Lehi resident’s finish tied Boyd’s brother Daniel Summerhays’ solo third finish at the 2016 PGA Championship and sends Finau toward the season’s home stretch and August’s FedEx Cup Playoffs with a lot of momentum.