Tony Finau battled big-lead nerves on a sometimes bumpy march to a fifth PGA Tour title on Sunday at the Houston Open.
Finau, up by four to start the day, pushed his lead to eight strokes with four front-nine birdies and even three bogeys coming in didn’t really put him in jeopardy.
The American ranked 15th in the world carded a one-under-par 69 – narrowly missing a 37-foot birdie try at the last – for a 16-under par total of 264 and a four-shot victory over Tyson Alexander.
Alexander drained a 33-foot birdie at the 18th to seize solo second on 12-under 268, one shot in front of England’s Ben Taylor who had one bogey and one birdie in his even par-70 for 11-under 269.
“It feels great,” Finau beamed. “Honestly, on the first hole I didn’t know if I had it in me today. It was one of those days where I just fought and fought.
“I made a lot of nice putts on the front nine to kind of calm me into things. I’ve never been in that position before, being with that big of a lead with nine holes to play.”
Finau notched his third title of 2022, having claimed two in the space of two weeks at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic in June and July.
He dominated all week at Memorial Park Golf Course, matching his career best with a second-round 62 then steering a steady course through dramatically changed weather conditions to maintain a four-shot lead heading into the final round.
If Finau was feeling front-runner’s nerves it didn’t show as he rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt at the 2nd, and a seven-footer at the 5th.
He drained a 40-foot birdie effort at the 8th and followed up with a 19-foot birdie at the 9th.
The tension began to build, however, with a bogey at the 10th, where he was in the fairway but eventually couldn’t get a nine-foot par putt to drop.
He was unable to get up and down from a greenside bunker at 14, and three-putted for bogey at 15 as his lead dwindled to five shots.
“A lot of new nerves, I would say,” Finau said. “But overall as the round went on I felt better and I’m just happy to get a ‘W’ today.”
Alexander and Taylor, both seeking a first PGA Tour title, were neck-and-neck in pursuit of Finau through the closing stretch.
Alexander had climbed the leaderboard with birdies at the 3rd, 5th and 9th and both bogeyed the 11th and birdied 13 before Alexander struck at the final hole.
“Great week for me,” Alexander said. “I wish Tony would have taken the week off ….”
Although he didn’t lift the trophy, the 34-year-old said the week had reinforced his belief that “my good is good.”
“I felt like I had my good stuff, and I can compete and try to win golf tournaments out here,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse