Simpson birdies the 1st playoff hole after a birdie, birdie finish in regulation at the Phoenix Open, forcing a stunned Finau to wait even longer for that elusive 2nd PGA Tour victory
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The “I Got This” movement reclaimed center stage at TPC Scottsdale for a second time.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open began with an encore appearance last week by Amy Bockerstette, the delightful young woman who made a sensational practice-round par last year after shooing away tour pro Gary Woodland with the assurance, “I got this.” That turned into a viral video that warmed America’s hearts.
What’s up with Amy? She’s still got this. She plays on a community-college golf team, started the I Got This Foundation to promote golf instruction and playing opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities and received a $25,000 check for her new foundation from the Phoenix Thunderbirds, the benevolent organization that runs the WMPO, to a standing ovation at that same 16th hole.
Maybe the tournament should revise its marketing slogan from “The Greatest Show on Grass” to “I Got This.”
Thanks to the risk-reward of TPC Scottsdale’s challenging finishing holes, we learned once again that WMPO contenders who think, I Got This don’t actually Got This until and unless and they officially Got This.
Tony Finau was Sunday’s apparent I Got This guy. He made a clutch up-and-down birdie from a greenside bunker at No. 15 and took a two-shot lead to the final two holes.
Finau was a scriptwriter’s story-of-the-week waiting to happen. Some of us media types already understandably were writing it before he reached the 72nd hole because it had drama and an apparent happy ending.
Finau hadn’t won in four years – the CBS crew said 1,407 days, and I’ll take their word for it. He had just one victory, the 2016 Puerto Rico Open versus a second-tier field because it was played opposite the WGC Match Play Championship.
Since that lone win, Finau has been golf’s finest Nearly Man. It’s been a long 1,407 days because Finau has had six runner-up finishes and three third-place results since Puerto Rico. That’s a lot of dough and ranking points and FedEx Cup play-money points, enough to get Finau on the most recent U.S. Ryder and Presidents cup teams but not nearly, nearly, nearly enough to overcome the frustration of coming so close.
You probably remember Tiger Woods’ line: “Second-place sucks.” It’s lucrative (Finau has passed $18.1 million in PGA Tour earnings) but, yeah, Woods was mostly correct.
The oft-told backstory of Finau, 30, is that he was a multi-sport star growing up in Salt Lake City (and is the first player of Tongan-Samoan ancestry to play on the PGA Tour), a hot Division I basketball prospect in high school (the Atlanta Hawks’ Jabari Parker is a second cousin), and he opted to pass on basketball and college to chase pro golf.
The rest is a success story. Well, except for the number in the victory column, which Finau would like to increase.
So, Phoenix finally was going to be the moment that opened the floodgates for Finau. He’d pulled out of the European Tour’s Saudi International event last week because of concerns about possible Middle East-related violence and because he’d just moved his family of six into a Scottsdale-area home. Playing the WMPO was going to be as brilliant of a call as the one made by fans who wagered big money on “tails” for the Super Bowl coin toss and won. (Do you detect a note of Super Bowl betting bitterness? Surely not.)
Winning on the PGA Tour is a difficult thing, as our favorite Nearly Man found out. Finau didn’t really do anything wrong on the last two holes. Unless you count making a pair of pars as mistakes. That would be a harsh view.
At the 17th, Finau tried to drive the risk-reward par-4 with a 3-wood, mis-hit it and left himself with an awkward 68-yard bunker shot from an upslope to a back pin placement, with water looming just behind the green. He splashed a shot onto the putting surface and smartly got down in two putts from 55 feet, a good par after a poor tee shot. He didn’t lose a shot, but he did lose a prime birdie opportunity.
At 18, Finau hammered a tee shot that rolled out to 366 yards, the longest drive on the hole by anyone all week. He dropped his sand wedge shot to within 8 feet above the hole. Then, putting for the win, he was a thin hair too careful and his putt snapped right at the hole. No, it was not a simple 8-footer. Eight-footers never are simple when they’re for the win. But that’s how tough the competition is on the PGA Tour. It’s not about making mistakes on the closing holes; it’s about failing to make that clinching birdie.
Finau had two chances to close the door on the last two holes, and he didn’t do it. Pars often aren’t good enough at this level.
Those two missed opportunities mattered because Simpson finished birdie-birdie in regulation play. He poured in a 17-footer that hooked left at the very end to force Finau’s hand.
In the playoff, also at 18, Simpson sank a 10½ foot putt with a little more right-to-left movement after Finau, who’d driven it into the faux Church Pew bunkers left, missed his birdie try.
Finau didn’t lose this WMPO; Simpson won it by making birdies on the last three holes he played.
“It’s how the cookie crumbles today,” Finau said. “It’s a bitter week as I look back on it, but, man, lots of stuff to be learned. I had a great chance to win. But my game’s better than it’s ever been. I have more confidence than I’ve ever had. If you know anything about me, I’ll persevere through anything.”
Finau’s change of travel plans still worked out well. So did Simpson’s detour. He stopped off in Las Vegas to see instructor Butch Harmon for a tuneup. Obviously, it paid off. Simpson, 34, earned his sixth PGA Tour victory, the first since the 2018 Players Championship.
Both of these guys look as if they should be even bigger stars than they are. Blame their relative lack of wins in the past four years for that. Also, blame golf’s bigger and flashier star power such as Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas.
Simpson, who spent his offseason on a workout regimen to get stronger, might be poised to challenge those players. For now, he is the man who can survey the WMPO and deliver the slogan: “I got this.”
What about the resilient Milton Pouha Finau, better known as Tony? He’s got game. Maybe he’s Got Next.
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