Utah’s Tony Finau wins 3M Open with late surge

After trailing by five shots with 11 holes remaining, he notches a three-stroke victory for his third PGA Tour trophy.

(Abbie Parr | AP) Tony Finau poses for photos with the trophy after his win in the 3M Open golf tournament at the Tournament Players Club in Blaine, Minn., Sunday, July 24, 2022.

(Abbie Parr | AP) Tony Finau places the ball to his chest and reacts to his putt for par on the 17th green during the final round of the 3M Open golf tournament at the Tournament Players Club in Blaine, Minn., Sunday, July 24, 2022.

During the week of his West High School graduation at age 17, Tony Finau faded to an eighth-place finish in the final round of a high-stakes event and missed his shot at $2 million.

Scott Piercy claimed that prize in The Ultimate Game’s top-heavy purse distribution in Las Vegas, but the script played out much differently 15 years later. The convergence of Finau’s four back-nine birdies and Piercy’s collapse with a triple bogey and other troubles more than covered a five-stroke gap Sunday as Finau won the 3M Open at the TPC Twin Cities in Minnesota.

Finau posted 67-68-65-67 for a 17-under-par total, winning by three shots over Sungjae Im and Emiliano Grillo, who also made a triple bogey. Piercy, who played for BYU during the 1997-98 school year before transferring to San Diego State, played the last 11 holes in 7 over par and closed with a 76, tying for fourth.

Who knows how Finau’s life may have changed if he had won that $2 million instead of $100,000 (sponsors paid his $50,000 entry fee) as a teenager, at the start of his seven-year struggle to reach the PGA Tour. The $1.35 million he collected Sunday is merely a bonus among his $30 million-plus in career earnings. A tournament win means everything in pro golf, especially in the context of Finau’s continually coming close.

With his second victory in 11 months and the third of his PGA Tour career, the summer resident of Lehi broke a tie with Bill Johnston, Mike Reid and Keith Clearwater for most victories among golfers living in Utah at the time. Mike Weir tops that list with eight wins, followed by George Von Elm and Dan Forsman with five each.

Finau’s latest win came in front of his wife, Alayna, and their five children, on Utah’s Pioneer Day. “I hope my kids will remember this for a long time … this one’s extremely special,” he said in a news conference.

The win, following his extra-holes defeat of Cameron Smith in a FedEx Cup Playoff event last August, further validated the theory illustrated by Golf Data last year. Finau’s 10 career second-place finishes, including two this season, were not necessarily his fault.

As his coach, Farmington native Boyd Summerhays said Sunday in a text message, “[After] all the tough losses when Tony’s played so, so good and done enough to win a handful of times but just had guys do more, it’s so, so good to see things go his way when he really needed it.”

Finau more than did his part Sunday by converting birdies from 15, 8, 32 and 8 feet on the back nine, surging into the lead as Piercy faded fast. “You just have to keep playing; anything can happen,” Finau said. “I made some really crucial putts when I really needed them.”

And when he glanced at a scoreboard near the No. 16 green, he was stunned to discover that he held a three-stroke lead. “My heart almost skipped a beat,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Finau birdied that hole, preceding an adventurous finish. His tee shot on the par-3 No. 17 sailed long and left, with the ball bouncing off a grandstand and across the green, nearly going into the water. After making a par, Finau clutched his heart, pretended to stagger off the green and kissed his ball.

Acknowledging “a bad swing at a bad time,” Finau added, “I just got lucky. Sometimes, you get bounces that go your way.”

That break enabled him to absorb an 18th-hole bogey, after driving into the water on the right side.

Finau certainly has salvaged a season that appeared dismal only four months ago. He’s now likely to make the U.S. team for the Presidents Cup in September in North Carolina, after competing for a sixth straight year in the exclusive Tour Championship in Atlanta. In January, he’ll return to the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

Those destinations seemed unlikely as of March, when he was around 150th in the FedEx Cup standings. But as he said Sunday, a change in his setup over the ball altered his year, starting with a win over Xander Schauffele in the World Golf Championship Match Play event. And then a closing 66 in The Open Championship in Scotland gave him good vibes on his way to Minnesota.

Finau’s status as the highest-ranked player in the field and the betting favorite (11-1 odds) in the 3M Open slightly spooked him, creating what he labeled “added expectations” and a “crazy situation.”

He came through, never mind that the field was relatively weak, following a major tournament.

Finau said, “You still have to win.” That’s exactly what he did, in the end.

Tony Finau, center rear, poses for photos with his family after his win in the 3M Open golf tournament at the Tournament Players Club in Blaine, Minn., Sunday, July 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.