Getty Images

Finau overcomes injury to keep Masters dream alive

By Ryan LavnerApril 6, 2018, 12:30 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Crouching over the turf, his left shin pointed one way and his ankle the other, a single thought entered Tony Finau’s mind.

Don’t get carted off in an ambulance.

Because that’s what anyone who watched the graphic video would have expected. Celebrating a hole-in-one during Wednesday’s Masters Par 3 Contest, Finau raced off the tee box, wheeled around to see his family’s reaction, and then felt searing pain in his left foot.

From elation to horror, in a split second.

“Seeing it,” said Boyd Summerhays, Finau’s swing coach, “your heart just sinks.”   

It looked like a calamitous end to his feel-good Masters debut, but friends and family stopped doubting Tony Finau a long time ago.

An opening 68 while hobbling around Augusta National fit neatly into his improbable life story.

After all, this is a 28-year-old who learned the game from his father, Kelepi, whose only knowledge came from what he’d read in Jack Nicklaus’ book, “Golf My Way.” Money was tight, really tight, so Tony honed his swing as a youngster by smacking balls into a mattress in the garage of their cramped duplex. Though his family couldn’t afford a coach, range balls or membership dues, he blossomed into a prodigious winner at the junior level. He turned pro and was just starting to find his way when his mother, Ravena, died in a car crash. She was only 47.

“I had to dig down really deep inside,” he said in 2016, “not just for my personal life but also my faith: How does this happen? Where do I go from here? To lose somebody that close to you, and the manner that she did, that was really, really tough.”

Looking to jump-start his floundering career, he competed on Golf Channel’s “Big Break” reality show but reached another dead end. Needing a spark, he hooked up with Summerhays, who harnessed his awesome power, improved his control and strengthened his short game. A year later, Finau became a PGA Tour winner and, now, a top-35 talent playing his first Masters.

“I feel like my back’s been up against the wall my whole life,” Tony said. His father, even after all of these years, was reduced to tears on Thursday.

And yet Finau’s compelling backstory didn’t seem to matter at the Par 3 Contest. The golf gods tend to frown upon those who run at Augusta National, and so down went Finau, the irony impossible to ignore. Six-foot-four and built like an NFL wide receiver, he is considered one of the most athletic players in the game, capable of throwing down tomahawk and windmill dunks. But there he was, clutching his dislocated left ankle after a celebrating a hole-in-one, hoping he didn’t need to be stretchered off.

“I feel like I’m a good athlete,” he said, “and to see myself roll an ankle on an easy, little backpedal wasn’t really athletic.”

Masters Tournament: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Finau nonchalantly popped the joint back into place – “I saw where it was,” he said, “and I saw where it needed to be” – and then made a few wobbly steps before signaling for the rest of his family. He somehow finished the last two holes.

“I knew he hurt it real bad,” Summerhays said. “I could just tell from his body language. He was really nervous about the results.”

But those results were encouraging. His X-ray on Wednesday night came back negative, so he spent the night with his foot elevated and hooked up to a machine that reduced the inflammation. Early Thursday morning, he underwent an MRI, which revealed no ligament damage, just a high-ankle sprain. His ability to play was simply a matter of pain tolerance.

“I had looked forward to this week for a really long time,” he said, “and to see the possibility of that slipping away … I had the confidence that I would come back, but I wanted to play now, and I wanted to play this week. Waiting for another opportunity to play my first Masters, whenever that was, it was going to be hard for me to swallow.”

Finau showed up an hour and 20 minutes before his tee time, with a pronounced limp and a thick white wrap above his low-top Nike shoes. Instead of warming up on the flat range, he initially headed to a hilly spot in the short-game area. There, he tried a series of shots from every possible lie – uphill, downhill, sidehill, hanging – to test his stability. Still, Summerhays said, “His mind wouldn’t let him go into that left ankle.”  

So he made a few adjustments. Finau shifted his alignment to the left. Then he put the ball further back in his stance, so he could put more weight on his right side. Even as he worked his way through the bag, he never swung up fully onto his right toes, opting to remain almost flatfooted.

After receiving a few minutes of treatment, he headed back out onto the far-right side of the range, carrying two bags of balls, though just a handful would have sufficed. The entire range session lasted only 14 minutes, and he hit just four drivers.

“He was in pain, but nothing overwhelming,” said his caddie, Greg Bodine. “And even if it was, I think he still would have made it to the first tee. He’s worked his whole life to get to this spot.”

All of his family was on hand to celebrate what should have been a momentous achievement, the culmination of so many years of hard work and sacrifice. Near the practice putting green, he hugged Kelepi, decked out in a white cap and polo with Finau’s personal TF foundation logo stitched on the front. He bumped fists with his brother, Gipper, another former teen phenom. Before teeing off, he patted Stuart Love, his physiotherapist, on the shoulder. “Thanks, Doc,” he said. “I’ll see you after.”

And then something bizarre happened. The longer Finau played, the better his foot felt. He erased an opening bogey with a birdie on 2. Then he flagged a 225-yard 5-iron on 4. Relying on tips from Billy Casper and Johnny Miller, he added birdies on Nos. 8, 9, 13 and 15 to move into the solo lead at 4 under, proving, perhaps for the first time, that pro golfers really are tough guys.

“I told him: ‘You can’t say you’re an athlete and then you can’t celebrate. That’s gonna take that status away,’” Kelepi said, chuckling. “So he said, ‘I’m going go prove it tomorrow.’”

And that’s exactly what he did.

Finau holed his par putt for an opening 68, leaving him just two shots back of the lead. After a wild 24 hours, he had only one explanation. 

“It’s nothing short of a miracle.”

Getty Images

Woods, Leishman, Fleetwood grouped at Northern Trust

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 10:55 pm

While 125 players qualified for The Northern Trust this week, only 120 have decided to tee it up at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. Here's a look at a few of the marquee, early-round tee times where players are grouped via FedExCup standing and Tiger Woods makes his first start since a runner-up performance at the PGA Championship (all times ET):

7:54 a.m. Thursday, 12:55 p.m. Friday: Tiger Woods, Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood

Woods starts the postseason at No. 20 in the points race, with a great chance to advance to the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013. He'll look to pad his point total this week in the Garden State, making his return to competition after a week off following a strong showing at Bellerive. He'll play the first two rounds with Leishman, who has two runner-up finishes this season, and Fleetwood, who nearly caught Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open.

8:05 a.m. Thursday, 1:06 p.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka

There should be no shortage of eye-popping drives from this trio, who comprise the top three in the season-long points race heading into the playoffs. Johnson holds the No. 1 spot in both the world rankings and the FedExCup, having won three times since January, while Thomas will look to become the first player to go back-to-back in the playoffs and Koepka hopes to add to a career year that already includes two majors.

8:16 a.m. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. Friday: Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau

Simpson got back into the winner's circle in impressive fashion at The Players Championship, and he heads into the playoffs off a T-2 finish last week at the Wyndham Championship. Molinari cruised to victory at the Quicken Loans National before his major triumph at Carnoustie, while DeChambeau's win at the Memorial highlighted his season that brought him to the cusp of a Ryder Cup berth.

12:44 p.m. Thursday, 7:43 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Beau Hossler, Byeong-Hun An

Normally featured among the points leaders at this point in the season, Spieth heads into the playoffs at No. 43 in the standings, sandwiched between a pair of players whose best results came in playoff losses. Hossler has had a quietly strong season that was highlighted by a runner-up to Ian Poulter in overtime at the Houston Open, while An lost a playoff to DeChambeau at the Memorial.

12:55 p.m. Thursday, 7:54 a.m. Friday: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau

There will be four green jackets among this group, as the reigning Masters champ is joined by a pair of Ryder Cup hopefuls in Mickelson and Finau. Lefty broke a lengthy victory drought with his WGC-Mexico win in March but has largely slowed this summer, while Finau notched top-10 finishes in each of the first three majors to enter the discussion for possible picks for Paris.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: Too much Tiger for his own good?

By Randall MellAugust 20, 2018, 10:00 pm

We could be getting a dose of way too much Tiger Woods.

Yeah, that’s difficult to fathom, given how good his return to the game has been on so many levels, but the man might be too close to winning for his own good right now.

I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but a reasonable person has to wonder how playing the next three weeks in a row – five of the next six weeks – will affect Woods’ surgically fused spine.

That isn’t to say Woods is actually going to end up playing that much, but it looms as a real possibility.

In fact, dating back to the WGC Bridgestone, it’s possible he could be amid a run of playing seven times in the last nine weeks.

My sacroiliac joint is throbbing at the thought.

Beginning with The Northern Trust this week, Woods is committed to the first three legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t play the final leg at the Tour Championship if he qualifies.

It’s impossible to imagine he won’t be among Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks to play the Ryder Cup.

So if Woods continues this streak of strong play, what’s going to give?

We hope it isn’t his back.

Or his neck.

Or his knees.

Only Woods and his doctors really know how much the 42-year-old can take physically, but there is more to lose than to gain by overdoing it now.

Yeah, the FedExCup Playoffs are great fun, more meaningful with each passing year, but it’s all about the major championships now for Woods.

Competitively, it’s all that matters.

Nobody but the most anal Tiger fans are going to remember how many FedExCups he won, but we’re all going to remember how many majors he won.

We’re all going to remember him resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus, if that’s where his summer tease is taking us, with Woods’ T-6 at The Open last month and his second-place finish at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

Whether you are a Woods fan or not, how can you not want to see a historic chase of Jack as Tiger’s last chapter?

The game soars to yet another level with that.

A legion of young, new fans come pouring into the game even if Tiger only gets to 17 major championship titles.

So while the FedExCup Playoffs give us a postseason in golf, make Player of the Year chases more interesting and Ryder Cup captain’s picks more intriguing, they are a mere prelude for Tiger.

The playoffs give him another chance to get ready for next year’s Masters.

They give him a chance to win something before heading to Augusta National.

They give him another chance to rebuild his closing skills.

Woods doesn’t have to win the overall FedExCup to do that.

And he doesn’t have to play every event he commits to playing. He’s 20th in FedExCup points right now. He can get to the Tour Championship without playing all three of the legs leading there.

The tough spot for Woods is withdrawing from a FedExCup event. It’s trickier for him. With all the extra tickets sold when he commits, with all the excitement his anticipated arrival creates, it feels like a broken promise when he backs out.

Yeah, other players WD before big events for reasons beyond injury, but they don’t create the massive disappointment Woods creates.

For somebody invested in wanting to see Tiger vs. Jack reprised, it’s a lot easier to live with seeing Woods pull out of a FedExCup Playoff event to rest than to see him WD from one with an injury.

There’s more excitement in the prospect of seeing a lot of Woods in the majors next year than seeing too much of him now.

Here’s hoping somebody helps Tiger gets his FedExCup Playoff dosage right. His pain could be golf’s pain.

Getty Images

Watch: Marshawn Lynch's golf game could use some work

By Grill Room TeamAugust 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch is pretty great at driving golf carts, but from the looks of a video that surfaced this weekend, his golf prowess starts and ends there.

"Beast Mode" was in attendance at Klay Thompson's charity event in San Francisco on Sunday, and luckily the Golden State Warriors shooting guard caught Lynch's swing on camera - because it is a sight to behold.

Dressed in a traditional golf hoodie, the former Super Bowl champion who has been thrilling fans with his raw athleticism and power on the gridiron for more than a decade showed off a swing that would make Charles Barkley blush.

Lynch was not questioned about the swing by members of media afterwards, although there's a pretty good chance you already know how he would've answered.

Getty Images

Stenson (elbow) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 5:41 pm

Former FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson will start his postseason on the sideline, as he withdrew on Monday from The Northern Trust because of an elbow injury.

Stenson captured the season-long title back in 2013, when he won two of the four playoff events. At 50th in the current points standings, he's assured of a spot next week at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship and likely to make the field at the 70-man BMW Championship the following week.

A PGA Tour official confirmed that Stenson cited the elbow injury as the reason for his withdrawal. He was bothered by an injured elbow last month that led him to withdraw from the Scottish Open and limited his prep for The Open, where he tied for 35th.

The 42-year-old defended his title last week at the Wyndham Championship, tying for 20th place after shooting a 6-under 64 in the final round.

"It's fine, I can practice and I can play without any problems as of now, but I can't really go after it in the gym fully," Stenson told reporters last week in Greensboro. "The main thing that we can play and practice without having any problems there, so it's getting better."

The intrigue around Stenson's decision grows when the context of the Ryder Cup is taken into consideration. The Swede has represented Europe in the biennial matches four times, but he's currently 16th in both the European Points and World Points lists with only two weeks remaining in the qualification window.

Even before skipping this week's event in New Jersey, Stenson appeared likely to need a pick from captain Thomas Bjorn, who will round out his 12-man roster with four selections on Sept. 5. Other notable players who are not currently in position to qualify include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Russell Knox, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters.

Stenson becomes the fifth player to withdraw from this week's field, which does not feature alternates and is now down to 120 players. Rory McIlroy opted to rest up this week, while Patrick Rodgers is skipping the tournament to attend a wedding. Both Rickie Fowler (oblique) and Bud Cauley (June car accident) withdrew because of injury.