2021 Northern Trust, Round 2: Tony Finau Shows Signs of Breakthrough at Liberty National

2021 Northern Trust, Round 2: Tony Finau Shows Signs of Breakthrough at Liberty National article feature image
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Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR via Getty Images. Pictured: Tony Finau.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Try to reconcile this one, golf fans: The current PGA TOUR campaign has been labeled a “super-season” for including a whopping 50 events, the most on one schedule since 1975. And yet, unless someone can break a six-player tie over the next few weeks, this will be just the fourth season during this span in which the win leaders finish with just two.

There are plenty of takeaways from such a stat — and it’s fairly impossible to discredit any of ‘em.

Fields are undoubtedly deeper right now than ever before, with more players capable of winning on a weekly basis. Perhaps more money has generated greater complacency, or at least less internal pressure to continue stepping on the gas pedal.

And sure, it certainly has something to do with no dominant player — ahem, Mr. Woods — currently piling up Ws.

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Call it turnstile golf for the game’s elite, if you will. Step up to the deli counter, take your ticket and wait for your number to be called to pick up a trophy. Of the current top-18 on the Official World Golf Ranking, every player except Louis Oosthuizen owns a sanctioned global victory during this calendar year.

None of this is to suggest that winning is easy — the current winner’s circle parity alone implies it might be more difficult — but it should be cause for optimism among those still pining for an elusive title.

Enter Tony Finau, the sport’s forlorn nearly man, whose 2016 victory in an alternate-field event remains his lone PGA TOUR triumph, despite residing amongst the game’s upper echelon talents for the past half-decade.

As golf researcher extraordinaire Justin Ray of the Twenty First Group noted on Friday, Finau owns 39 top-10s in the past five years without a win, which is 17 more than the next closest contender on that list.

Once again, Finau finds himself in contention here at The Northern Trust, as opening rounds of 67-64 leave him just one stroke behind world No. 1 Jon Rahm on this star-studded leaderboard.

The immediate response from many fans — not to mention bettors who might’ve lost a small fortune on Finau outrights over the past few years — is that calamity is waiting just around the corner, that there’s a reason why a player of his massive skill level hasn’t been able to claim another victory.

That notion, however, flies in the face of everything we’ve learned about predictive analytics, from golf results to the stock market, recalling an old adage which remains undeniably true: Past performance isn’t a predictor of future results.

Finau knows this as well as anyone. Just as Phil Mickelson long ago needed so many close calls at major championships before starting to win ‘em, he understands that these experiences should be viewed through more of a positive prism than a negative one.

“You just try and learn; I feel like I’ve learned a lot being in this position before,” Finau said after a second round that included eight birdies against just one closing bogey. With 36 holes to play, my game is in a good place. Every opportunity is different. Even though some may feel the same, it’s a new opportunity. I’ve got to approach it as that, and the game is in a good place with 36 holes to go.”

If there’s one player who can empathize with Finau’s struggle to win again, it’s Abraham Ancer, who despite being considered a world-class player for the past few years, only claimed his first PGA TOUR title two weeks ago at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

Speaking earlier this week, Ancer specifically credited a runner-up finish here at Liberty National two years ago for giving him the optimism to know that a victory was coming at some point.

“Yeah, it did give me a lot of confidence moving forward,” he explained. “I felt like I played better and more consistent after that.”

He walked through that turnstile, grabbed that ticket at the deli counter and got his trophy, just as Finau will at some point — whether it’s this weekend or sometime in the future.

During a “super season” that has seen 41 unique winners so far and nobody claim more than two, it’s just another reason to believe that good things will come to those who have been waiting.

“I’m more motivated to win,” Finau said. “I’ve worked extremely hard on my body, on my mind, and I’ve done a lot of work on myself to just be better and try to be a better person and be a better golfer. I feel like I’ve accomplished some of those things, and hopefully getting a ‘W’ just for myself to feel accomplished would be a great thing.”

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