Finau: I needed to prove people wrong; I knew I was a closer

John Craven
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Finau: I needed to prove people wrong; I knew I was a closer

Tony Finau is the Northern Trust Open champion (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Eight second place finishes and 39 top-10’s since his first and only PGA Tour win in 2016 at Puerto Rico and Tony Finau is a two-time Tour winner, coming through a playoff against Aussie Cam Smith to claim the Northern Trust Open in New Jersey.

The super-talented 31-year old signed off with a sizzling 65, including a bogey-free back-nine of five-under 30 to prove once and for all that he is a finisher and not the near-miss merchant many had written him off to be.

“Yeah, no question,” Finau answered when asked if he felt he’d been unfairly tarred with a reputation as a weak finisher despite regularly breaking 70 in final rounds, not least at the Genesis where even a closing 64 couldn’t get the job done.

“But that’s how it is in sports, when you don’t seal the deal, as time goes on, they don’t give you the benefit of the doubt. So I knew for me, I needed to prove people wrong by winning. That’s the bottom line and that’s what sports is all about.

“I knew that I was a closer; the way that I play on Sundays tell me that I’m a closer and when I look at my scores, I’ve made clutch putts. Just sometimes this game is funny. The guys get away with shots or whatever the case. I feel like I’ve got the short end of the stick for the most part coming down the stretch and having a chance to win a golf tournament. This time, I was able to capitalise when I needed to and I got the breaks when I needed them, so I ended up on top this time.

“But as far as a little bit of unfairness, I feel like for sure when it comes to looking at my record because I’ve played really nicely on Sunday for the most part. We don’t have to look too far from other than my last playoff. I shot 64 at Riviera. Say what you want but that sounds like a pretty good player to me and a closer to me when you’re in contention shooting 64 on a golf course like that.

“I’ve had a lot of great rounds on Sunday. It’s nice to have this one and be able to capitalise on it with a W.”

Something felt different about Finau on Monday. No crowds might’ve helped –  a subdued atmosphere around Liberty National after nine inches of rain put a barring order on spectators due to safety concerns – but Finau didn’t need people yelling mashed potatoes from outside the ropes to remind him of the importance of winning. His five year drought and the numerous setbacks within it would do that job for him.

He even had a three-group waiting to ponder the significance of it all, holding a one-shot lead over his drive at the 72nd – a drive he would nuke 300 yards down the middle before missing the green right and playing a sumptuous up and down from the bunker to lay down the marker at 20-under.

Smith was out to spoil the party, picking up birdies at 16 and 17 to draw level before sparing Finau’s blushes as his putt to win came up short at the last. But as Finau put down another marker with a stunning drive off the first playoff hole, Smith finally buckled, sending his drive OB allowing Finau, who had to wait so long for victory and was 0 from 3 in playoffs coming into the sudden-death decider, to finish out the job with relative ease.

“It’s hard losing and it’s hard losing in front of the world,” Finau admitted. “I’ve done it already a couple times this year; in playoffs it’s happened to me. That made me more hungry. That’s what it does. If it doesn’t discourage you, it makes you more hungry.

“You guys keep telling me, when are you going to win again, it makes me more hungry. It all equals to know, it’s time for me to win again, and I hope I don’t have to wait another five years for the next one.”

“I have an extreme belief in myself, and I have to. This game is hard as it is. These guys are so good as it is. If you can’t believe you can beat them, man, it’s just an uphill battle, and I just continue to believe. I believe in myself. I believe in my team.

“I haven’t had the wins to maybe have that type of confidence and belief, but you just have to. I have to believe I can go out there and beat J.T. today, and I can beat Jon Rahm. I have to believe that, and I did, and I continue to do that, and that’s the only reason why I’m sitting here today as the champion. I continue to believe in myself no matter where the chips fall and try and do my best.”

  • Full scoring HERE / Full Irish report HERE

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