Doug Ferguson: The lack of wins is starting to pile up for Utah’s Tony Finau

He’s been among the top 50 in the world for three years, but he’s still looking for that big breakthrough

Tony Finau watches his approach shot from the first fairway during the final round of The American Express golf tournament on the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in La Quinta, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

At least it can’t be said Tony Finau is in a slump. He hasn’t won enough for that.

And that might be his biggest burden.

In his seventh year on the PGA Tour, in 168 tournaments, his only victory was in March of 2016 at the Puerto Rico Open, the same week the top 64 in the world were in Texas for the Match Play.

Everyone in golf should know this because it gets mentioned every time Finau is in contention, like he was last week in the California desert, or when he’s a captain’s pick, like he was for the Ryder Cup in France and the Presidents Cup in Australia.

He looks to be built for greatness. Finau is 6-foot-4 with a wingspan measured at 6-foot-8. He is capable of generating as much ball speed as Bryson DeChambeau without the grunts or the protein shakes.

Finau has been among the top 50 in the world for the last three years, reaching as high as No. 9 toward the end of 2018. He has amassed more than $20 million in PGA Tour earnings. He has fit in nicely among America’s finest in the last two team competitions.

So it’s not a slump. That belongs to others in the field this week at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Jordan Spieth hasn’t won since he captured the third leg of the career Grand Slam in the 2017 British Open. Rickie Fowler is approaching the two-year anniversary of his last win and is out of the top 50 for the first time in seven years.

Francesco Molinari tied for eighth last week. That was his first top 10 since he lost a two-shot lead on the back nine of the 2019 Masters, when he was No. 7 in the world. The British Open champion from 2018 is now at No. 110.

Slumps are for those who have a history of winning.

Finau should want to trade places.

Instead, he heads from PGA West after another close call to Torrey Pines for what he sees as another opportunity. He is not easily discouraged, and that requires a different kind of strength.

The American Express was the fourth time he has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead and failed to win. Among the more crushing losses was the Waste Management Phoenix Open last year, when Webb Simpson birdied the last two holes to force a playoff and then made another birdie to win.

There also was the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, where Finau took a three-shot lead into the final round. Xander Schauffele was one shot behind with two holes to play when he made one only four birdies on the final day at the tough par-3 17th, matched birdies with Finau on the par-5 closing hole and won with a two-putt birdie in the playoff.

On Sunday at PGA West, Finau was tied for the lead and began with two quick birdies. He dropped back by hitting 3-iron into the water on the par-5 11th and missing a 3-foot par putt. He shot 68 and finished four behind Si Woo Kim, who shot 64 to hold off Patrick Cantlay and his 61.

It’s always someone else, and it only raises the same question. One victory in 168 chances with all that talent. Why?

The next one — there will be a next one, right? — won’t change that.

Charles Howell III has been dealing with it his entire career. Even when he won the RSM Classic at Sea Island at the end of 2018, the chatter inevitably got around to why he hadn’t won more than three times.

It wasn’t a lack of effort by Howell, and it’s not by Finau. He has had six runner-up finishes and 35 top 10s since his lone playoff victory in Puerto Rico.

“We would have thought he would have won his second title by now,” Boyd Summerhays, his swing coach, told Golf Channel on Sunday. “You would have thought that. The fans would have thought that, which is why, behind the scenes, I’ve never seen him work as hard as he has the last year.”

Finau left the desert encouraged, the opposite of what it would seem.

He said he usually has a pretty good sense when he walks off the final hole, and someone else is headed for the trophy presentation, how much a loss is going to sting. This wasn’t one of them. He felt he was headed in the right direction.

It’s not that the losses are mounting, because in no other sport does greatness have such a high rate of losing.

The rate of winning is what stands out for Finau.

And as Summerhays said, “Every tournament that goes by makes it more difficult. There’s no other way to look at it.”

Finau conceded it gets tiring answering questions about when he will win again. For him, it only adds to the challenge, which already has proven to be stout.

“I’m going to have a lot of opportunities to win tournaments. That’s to me what the exciting thing is,” he said. “Every time I don’t close a tournament, I’m never thinking, ‘Wow, I let another slip. I’m never going to have this opportunity again.’ For me it’s like, ‘What did I learn? How can I take what I learned into the next opportunity?’

“And I’ve got another opportunity tomorrow.”

He said this on Saturday afternoon, before the final round at PGA West.

He gets another opportunity this week.

That’s all he can ask for.