Tony Finau sails to win the Cadence Bank Houston Open

It took Tony Finau just nine holes on Sunday to send a clear message that no one else needs to bid for the Cadence Bank Houston Open championship. Finau played in the 4-under on the front nine of Memorial Park, sending a loud and clear message to his PGA Tour peers that this tournament would be over long before the end.

The four-stroke lead he had over 54-hole runner-up Ben Taylor had grown to eight, and that would be it. None of the perceived serious challengers to Finau, who had been the frontrunner from the start on Thursday, posed anything close to a serious threat.

England’s Taylor’s reaction to another birdie binge from his Finals pair playmate? Seven consecutive pars. It became a no-brainer, more of a crowning achievement than a competition.

Although Finau ended on a flat note, with much more of a whimper than a bang – he made three back nine bogeys and no birdie – who could fault him? No one took up the challenge of rolling it back up. No one took their measurement when it might have been there, as Finau admitted afterwards that he felt “a little off” at the start of the day. Self-doubt had crept in. “It’s not easy sleeping on a leash,” he said. “I just didn’t know if I had it in me, but you just take it one shot at a time.”

A 16-foot birdie putt on the second hole helped him get his inner ship back in order. A 40-foot putt for birdie on No. 8 further calmed his nervousness, even though the situation he was in at the time seemed surreal. After all, “I’ve never had an eight-shot lead in the finals,” he said. “It was a little bit ‘don’t break it’ for me from there.”

He did not do it.

His final 69, which may have been so fleeting compared to his earlier 65-62 start, followed by his masterful navigation of the fiendish playing conditions on Saturday left him with a 264 aggregate score, 16 under par and four ahead of Tyson Alexander, who other players in the last threesome. Alexander birdied No. 18 for 66-268 and one-shot down Taylor, who closed at 70. Swede Alex Noren, who was level on points with Finau and Aaron Wise at the top of the leaderboard after round one, carded a 68 and landed eight swings back in fourth place in a three-way tie.

The win, good for a $1.512 million payout, was the 33-year-old Finau’s third of seven starts since mid-July, after winning just twice in seven previous seasons in which he made a name for himself on the PGA Tour as an immensely talented ball forward, but one who all too often failed to seal the deal. He is a ten-time runner-up and has now made the top 10 in 55 of his 218 PGA starts. That’s a high rate.

“You know, when I say I don’t know if I thought I had it in me . . . Sometimes you just don’t know what the day will bring,” said Finau. “You have to fight those emotions throughout the day and I could fight them and just act out if I had to. I definitely have the confidence to gain and I showed that out there today.

“Overall, this was a special week. You know, I won this golf tournament from start to finish. Playing so well for four days is what it’s all about and all the hard work is starting to pay off, which is fun. I definitely have the confidence to gain. I’ve always felt like I’m mentally strong. I just needed my game to match it. I’ve shown some brilliance in bouts, but being a great player takes consistency.”

Finau won the 3M Classic by three shots and then took the Rocket Mortgage title by five shots. In Houston, he looked like a virtual lock to break the six-player record — Jackie Burke Jr., the future Masters champion from Houston, first managed to do so in 1952 — and he also seemed in with a chance of surpassing Vijay Singhs Record of 22 points set in 2002.

Then, sadly, he cooled abruptly when his wife, Alayna, and the eldest of his five children, soon-to-be 11-year-old son Jraice, arrived at the scene, having flown in from the family’s home in Salt Lake City just in time to see him watch on the back nine. They didn’t catch him at his best, but what they saw proved good enough, certainly without testing his courage or resolve.

“I think they see how much time is being invested and are very supportive,” Finau said of his family. “They always have been. My son is like my biggest fan. He’s also my biggest critic. It’s amazing to have him here. And of course my wife. You know, she’s been so supportive of my career since we got married.”

On her last-minute announcement, he added with a laugh: “Apparently she had a good feeling today. Tell you what, she felt a lot better than me if that was the case.”

Eager to claim the trophy and get a big hug from both of them, Finau admitted he got “a little impatient” after hitting the 14th tee.

“We were waiting for the group in front of us and I felt like we’d been out there forever,” he said. “It literally felt like this tournament wasn’t going to end, like we were never going to get to 17 or 18. I tried to be as patient as possible.”

But he missed that count, bogeying both 14 and 15 and missing a less than five-foot virtual gimme putt on the latter. This was to be his last wobble, however, and once he could gather his thoughts and enjoy his performance, he decided this tournament might have been his best performance yet. Finau called it “the best driving week of my career” and reminded everyone that “yesterday I hit 100 percent of the fairways in the regulations – I’ve never done that before.

“And it’s a deadly combination when I feel like this is also the best putting week I’ve ever had. You combine these two things and you can get sort of a runaway win like I had. It’s very encouraging for me when I’m making progress.”

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