LA QUINTA, Calif. – One of Tony Finau’s favorite sayings is “the loudest noise in golf is the swift change of momentum.” It’s a line from World Golf Hall of Famer Billy Casper, who lived part-time in Finau’s home state of Utah.
“When I read that I knew exactly what he was talking about,” Finau said.
The ebb and flow of the third round of the American Express had several momentum changes with seven different golfers holding or sharing the lead. At the end of day, Finau, 31, surged to the top of the leaderboard, propelled by birdies on all four par 5s at PGA West’s Stadium Course, and shares the 54-hole lead with Max Homa and Si Woo Kim at 15-under 201.
For Finau, it’s another chance to try to end his winless drought since his lone title at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. This is the 14th time Finau has been at or within three strokes of the lead entering the final round since tasting victory. He’s recorded 34 top-10 finishes in that time, including six runner-up finishes. But no W’s.
“I would be lying if I said it doesn’t sting to not have another one,” Finau said.
On Saturday, Finau opened with a bogey, but made birdie on four holes in a five-hole stretch on the front nine to surge into contention.
“I tried to stay patient but I knew, hey, I needed to start making some birdies to make up this round as fast as possible,” he said.
But just as he grabbed a share of the lead, he pulled his tee shot into the water at the par-3 13th hole and made double bogey. Yogi Berra would have said it was deja vu all over again.
Finau could have been deflated; he could’ve let another opportunity to notch victory slip away, but he quickly righted the ship. He’s learned the importance of a positive attitude from none other than Fred Couples at the 2019 Presidents Cup when he fell 1 down in one of his matches.
“I remember Freddie looking at me and he recognized that I wasn’t in the spirits I needed to be coming down the stretch and he looked me square in the eyes and grabbed my chin and put it up in the air and told me to keep my head up,” Finau recalled. “There’s no time for moping and doping out here. We went on to halve that match.”
“I’ve taught myself how to stay patient in these tough moments,” Finau added.
He also realized he had stood a little too close to his golf ball on his 7-iron and corrected his mistake and it triggered his best stretch of golf. Finau bounced back with three birdies in a row beginning at No. 14 to shoot 5-under 67.
If anything has held Finau back from becoming a multiple Tour winner, it has been his putter, which he calls his “magic stick.” It hasn’t always been that magical, but he has made great strides, improving from 125th to 69th in Strokes Gained: Putting. This week, he switched from putting crosshanded to conventional, something he hasn’t tried since 2019.
“It just felt good this week,” he said. “I had the charity match with Phil (Mickelson) and (Paul) Casey and those guys and I was like, you know what, I’m going to try it out. It felt pretty good there and I threw it in for the first three rounds and it seems to be working so far.”
Perhaps his putter will make this Sunday different than almost all the others. Finau ranked 129th in final-round scoring average (70.75) last season and 102nd in 2019. After each of his close calls and failures, he’s heard from his fellow pros via text and phone and the messages are always the same: “Your time is coming.”
Finau can only hope his time is now.