Tony Finau closes deal with record-breaking Rocket Mortgage Classic victory

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Detroit — Before each season, Tony Finau writes down his goals.

Entering 2021-22, Finau had two that stood out — win multiple events and capture the FedExCup championship.

Tony Finau kisses the 2022 Rocket Mortgage Classic trophy after winning the tournament Sunday.

One of those was checked off Sunday at the Detroit Golf Club, and the second suddenly seems much more attainable than it did a few weeks ago.

Finau, the 16th-ranked player in the world entering the week, fired a 5-under 67 to win the Rocket Mortgage Classic at 26 under, a record winning score in the fourth playing of the tournament. It was his second straight victory after winning last week’s 3M Open near Minneapolis, and with one week left in the regular season, he’s moved up to seventh in the FedExCup standings with at least a chance at making a run for the season-ending championship and the $18 million top prize.

Not bad for a guy who had built a reputation as a player who couldn’t close the deal.

“I put myself in situations to win before, haven't been able to do it,” Finau said. “But I'm very optimistic. I've always been that way. I've always had hope and faith that things will turn out if I just keep working hard and putting myself there.

“But I'm proud of the way that I fought through adversity through my career and now I'm a back-to-back champion. That's what happens. They say a winner is just a loser that just kept on trying, and that's me to a T. How many times do I lose?

"But one thing I won't do is give up and I'm only here as a winner because I chose not to give up and just keep going.”

Finau proved his mettle last week, rallying from a five-shot deficit in the final round before putting together a nearly flawless week at Detroit Golf Club. His one and only bogey over 72 holes came on No. 11 on Sunday, but birdies on two of the next three holes provided him all the cushion he needed as he finished five clear of Taylor Pendrith, Patrick Cantlay and Cameron Young, who all tied for second at 21 under.

“When I got to 14 tee, my goal was to birdie 14 and 17,” Finau said. “If I could do that, I knew I was going to win the golf tournament and I was able to do that. I was just proud of the way I finished. I thought that this week I was able to prove to myself the champion that I feel like I am.”

Finau’s 26-under showing was one better than Nate Lashley, who shot 25 under as the wire-to-wire winner of the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic in 2019.

It didn’t take long to figure out who was the fan favorite on Sunday as Finau strode down the first fairway, the chants of “Tony, Tony” already beginning early in the final round as he was paired with Pendrith, who shared the 54-hole lead with Finau at 21 under.

Finau, 32, hardly disappointed the large Sunday galleries, taking a two-shot lead on Pendrith by the turn before pulling away on the back nine and holding off a late push from Cantlay and Young.

“The margin of win is five at the end of 72 holes, but it didn't feel like that,” Finau said. “It finally felt like that on the 18th green, but it was a lot closer than that before the 18th hole.”

Pendrith entered the final round tied with Finau atop the leaderboard, but an early bogey on No. 2 led to a par 36 on the front nine and a two-shot deficit at the turn. Pendrith then bogeyed the par-4 12th while Finau birdied, providing a two-shot swing and a four-shot cushion for Finau.

It was a gap Pendrith, looking for his first Tour victory, never was able to overcome. The 31-year-old Canadian had his worst round of the week, shooting par 72 thanks to a balky putter. Still, the runner-up finish was Pendrith’s best and comes on the heels of two straight top-15 finishes as he prepares for the FedExCup playoff and, perhaps, a spot with the International team in the Presidents Cup.

“It was tough,” Pendrith admitted of playing in the final group. “I couldn't really get anything going and didn't get off to the best start like I did the last three days, but kind of hung in there. Middle of the round I hit some really nice iron shots and just couldn't get anything to fall. I left a lot of putts short and obviously those have no chance of going in. That was tough, just kind of lost my feel on the speed of my putts. 

“But all in all, obviously it's a good week. It's my best finish ever. It's fun to play in a final group. Tony played great, so hats off to him.”

Cantlay, 30, the defending FedExCup champion, was on the verge of pressuring the leaders during Saturday’s third round before he faltered at the finish, playing the final five holes at 1 over. On Sunday, he got off to a quick start, shooting 5 under on the front nine to get to 20 under and within three shots of the lead.

A bogey at No. 12 was a setback but an eagle 3 on the par-5 15th had him back within three of Finau, however he never got any closer as he bogeyed No.18 to shoot a second straight 66 as he prepares to defend his Cup title over the final three events of the season.

“I played well all week, really solid and that's what I've got to keep doing, just keep knocking on the door,” Cantlay said. “Got three big tournaments to close the season out. … I've just got to get hot with the putter and see if I can get up near contention the last three weeks and I should be in a good spot.”

Young, 25, continues to knock on the door of his first Tour victory, earning his fourth top-five finish in his last eight events, a run that included a tie for third at the PGA Championship and a runner-up finish at The Open Championship.

“I'd be lying if I said it was easy to just watch other people win,” Young admitted. “Obviously, today Tony beat us all by a lot, but it's not fun being that close that often and not having one. Some of them I've been closer than others, obviously. I've lost by one a couple times and lost by four, five a couple times.

“All in all, I think it's a great thing, it proves that I can at least put myself there. Yeah, I think overall it's a good thing, but definitely a little frustrating not to have won one yet.”

Young’s time is clearly coming while Pendrith keeps grinding and Cantlay prepares to defend his title.

For now, though, it’s Finau’s world, and he’s soaking it all in.

“I think I've been quoted saying it many times before, a week can change your life,” said Finau, now a four-time winner on the PGA Tour. “I guess when you look at mine, back-to-back weeks have now changed my life and it's a great feeling.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau