Tony Finau nearly flawless in 2022 Rocket Mortgage Classic for back-to-back PGA wins

Shortly after arriving at Detroit Golf Club, Tony Finau talked about the only NFL player jersey he owns: Calvin Johnson. By default, he said, that makes him a Detroit Lions fan.

After this weekend, he's probably a pretty big fan of the rest of the city, too.

Finau won the 2022 Rocket Mortgage Classic, shooting a tournament-record 26-under 262, capped with a 5-under 67 on Sunday as he vaulted into seventh in the FedEx Cup rankings.

In the process, he became the first player on the PGA Tour to win in consecutive weeks since Brendon Todd did so in 2019, after Finau won the 3M Open last weekend in Minnesota.

Tony Finau lifts the Rocket Mortgage Classic trophy in joy after winning at the Detroit Golf Club in Detroit on Sunday, July 31, 2022.
Tony Finau lifts the Rocket Mortgage Classic trophy in joy after winning at the Detroit Golf Club in Detroit on Sunday, July 31, 2022.

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"I write down goals before every season and I was able to peek at them overnight, and one of them was to be a multiple (tournament) winner this season," Finau said. "Another was to win the FedEx Cup, and I put myself in position to do that.

"A win can change your life, so I guess when you look at mine, two weeks, back-to-back weeks, have now changed my life, and it's a great feeling."

Finau won in back-to-back weeks before when he was climbing the ranks in the Junior Utah Golf Association and in the lower levels of pro golf, he said.

But to do it on the PGA Tour?

"That’s a whole different animal," he said while laughing. "It's pretty special."

Finau outlasted playing partner Taylor Pendrith, who finished tied for second with a 21-under 267. The Canadian rookie held the lead or was tied for it after each of the first three days but fired a par round Sunday.

World No. 4 Patrick Cantlay posted Sunday's early low number — 66 — to also get to 21-under; before that, it looked like he could make a serious charge.

Cantlay birdied four of his first five holes and sat 5-under after eight, but a 1-over stretch on Nos 9-13 derailed his chances; he finished tied for second.

British Open runner-up Cameron Young, who entered the day four strokes back, was even on the day until he birdied four of the final six holes to also finish tied for second at 21-under.

Tony Finau and his wife Alayna celebrate after winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club Sunday, July 31, 2022.
Tony Finau and his wife Alayna celebrate after winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club Sunday, July 31, 2022.

Avoiding mistakes

If Saturday featured metaphorical haymakers between Finau and Pendrith, Sunday began as more of a pillow fight. The two combined for eight birdies on the front nine Saturday but just three Sunday.

Pendrith dropped a shot on No. 2 — his drive sliced into the netting that separates the range, left his approach short and, after a pitch onto the green, couldn't convert the par putt.

Neither picked up a stroke until Finau broke through on the par-5 fourth. After blistering a 357-yard drive, he left his approach in the rough on the right.

From there, he sent a pitch down the hill tracking, the "oohs" in the pro-Finau gallery growing to a crescendo, until it rolled over the left side of the cup and settled 11 inches from the hole. He followed with a tap-in birdie.

After the pair exchanged pars on No. 5, Pendrith responded on No. 6, nearly holing out from 151 yards before his ball settled three feet from the pin; his tap-in birdie cut the lead to one.

Finau got it back on seven, though, when he shaped a draw on the course's easiest hole around the large oak tree short left of the greennestling pin-high, just outside of 20 feet.

His eagle putt was short, but he locked in for the birdie.

Tony Finau celebrates winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club Sunday, July 31, 2022.
Tony Finau celebrates winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club Sunday, July 31, 2022.

The turning point

The tourney's deciding hole may have come on No. 9.

After the pair matched tap-in pars on No. 8, Finau teed off first on the difficult par-3 No. 9 and, for the first time, gave Pendrith an opening. He hooked a seven-iron left of the green into the rough; Pendrith responded by landing his tee shot to 14 feet.

Finau's wedge rolled 11 feet past, giving Pendrith a chance to pull even with a made putt and a Finau miss.

Instead, he sent his putt just right. Using his read on the line, Finau then calmly drained his par to stay up two and extend his bogey-free streak to 63 holes.

"That was an easy two-shot swinger, it was looking like," Finau said. "He had a great look for birdie, I was able to get a nice read off of that.

"It gave me some momentum right into the back nine. ...The margin of win at the end was five at the end, but it didn't feel like that (then)."

Taylor Pendrith tees off on the fifth hole during the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club Sunday, July 31, 2022.
Taylor Pendrith tees off on the fifth hole during the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club Sunday, July 31, 2022.

Finau's bogey-free streak ended at the 65th hole. He extended his lead to three after picking up a stroke at No. 10, but sent his tee shot at 11 to the far side of the green. With his first three-putt of the tournament, he dropped a stroke.

He grabbed the shot right back, however, on No. 12 when he poured in a 31-foot putt and sent the crowd into a frenzy, just before Pendrith missed his par putt and the lead grew to four.

"It was tough, 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," Pendrith said. "You know, middle of the round, I hit some really nice iron shots and just couldn't get anything to fall.

"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."

Patrick Cantlay hits out of the bunker on hole No. 4 during the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club Sunday, July 31, 2022.
Patrick Cantlay hits out of the bunker on hole No. 4 during the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club Sunday, July 31, 2022.

Putting it all together

As the two walked 13, surely they heard the roar from ahead at 14. Cantlay took a mid-iron on his approach from just more than 200 yards out and watched it nestle five feet from the cup for a shot at eagle.

He made it and flopped spots with Pendrith on the board, but Finau had too much distance and was too hot.

"Two really good shots and a simple five-footer up the hill for eagle," Cantlay said. "I played well all week, really solid and that's what I've got to keep doing, just keep knocking on the door."

Finau, the No. 16 golfer in the world, put on a clinic from tee to green, Thursday to Sunday.

He was first in strokes gained tee-to-green and second in strokes gained off the tee.

Known for his distance, Finau ranked third in driving accuracy, finding 46 of 56 fairways, which led to hitting 66 of 72 greens. The few times he didn't hit a green in regulation, he was a perfect 6-for-6 avoiding a bogey.

If that wasn't enough, he was the best putter the entire week, needing just 114 putts — an average of 1.58 per hole.

"It's very satisfying to capitalize on the two ball-striking weeks I've had," he said. "I feel like I've been hitting it nicely for a while and just haven't quite put myself right there.

"But the last two weeks I've been able to make putts when they count."

Entering Sunday, Finau was 0-for-5 when holding the lead thru 54 holes. He admitted there were tough rounds and even tougher nights.

Sunday, sitting with his second trophy in as many Sundays, with a $1.5 million purse secured, he reflected on how far he has come.

Finau said he knew he would soon break through.

"I'm proud of the way that I fought through adversity through my career, and now I'm a back-to-back champion," he said. "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."

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 2022 Rocket Mortgage Classic: Tony Finau nearly flawless in win