Houston • Winning used to come hard for Tony Finau. Now he’s making it look easy.
Staked to a four-shot lead Sunday in the Houston Open, Finau stretched it to eight shots on the back nine and sailed to his third PGA Tour victory of the year. With three bogeys that only affected the margin, he closed with a 1-under 69 and won by four.
Finau won only once in his first 185 tournaments upon joining the PGA Tour. Now he has four in the last 30 tournaments, including three in this calendar year.
“I’ve always had belief, but confidence when you win is contagious,” Finau said. “I’m starting to put together a full-package game.”
It certainly showed over four days at Memorial Park.
Finau seized control with a 62 in the second round ahead of the change in weather and was superb in his bogey-free round of 68 in Saturday’s cold and wind. No one came close to catching him on Sunday.
He finished at 16-under 264 and started the new season with a win — moving to No. 12 in the world ranking — after shaking off some rust in a missed cut last week at Mayakoba.
PGA Tour rookie Tyson Alexander won the B-flight, and it was a big deal. Alexander made a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a 66 and moved out of a tie for second to be the sole runner-up. That was worth enough FedEx Cup points that it should be a virtual lock that he qualifies for the postseason next summer.
“Great week for me,” Alexander said. “I wish Tony would have taken the week off.”
Ben Taylor missed his 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th for a 70 and finished third.
Finau said he felt uncomfortable with such a large lead at the start of the round, and he conceded he had some doubts about how he would play.
Those didn’t last terribly long. He rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the second hole, and then quickly pulled away from the field.
Finau holed a 7-foot birdie putt on the fifth, made a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-5 eighth and capped off the front nine with a 20-foot birdie putt.
That gave him an eight-shot lead, and from there it was matter of staying upright.
“It was one of those days I fought and fought, and I made a lot of nice putts that calmed me,” Finau said. “I’ve never been in this position. I had a lot of nerves. Overall, as the round went on, I felt better. I was happy to get the ‘W’ today.”
He didn’t make a bogey until the 10th hole, and then he dropped two more shots along the back nine from a bunker and with a long three-putt. Even so, no one ever got closer than the four-shot margin at the end of the round.
Finau’s five PGA Tour victories match the career total of George Von Elm, another West High School graduate who was considered the best native-Utah golfer in history, prior to Finau’s emergence.
Finau’s run of three wins in his past seven starts — by an average of four strokes — is comparable to the 2003 performance of Sandy resident Mike Weir, who won three times in eight starts, highlighted by a Masters victory, Two of Weir’s wins came in playoffs; the other was by two shots.
Finau’s driving accuracy played a big role in his victory in Houston; so did his par-3 performance. He made seven birdies on Memorial Park’s 20 par-3 holes in four rounds, with excellent iron play. His last five birdies on par-3s came from an average of 11 feet.
Alex Noren had a 68 and tied for fourth to move to No. 45 in the world. He will need to stay in the top 50 by the end of the year for any hope of a Masters invitation.
Masters champion Scottie Scheffler closed with a 67 and tied for ninth. He needed a win to replace Rory McIlroy at No. 1 in the world.
McIlroy is playing next week in Dubai to wrap up the European tour season, while Scheffler will next play at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, a 20-man field that offers world ranking points.