Tony Finau takes Northern Trust in playoff for first win since 2016

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Tony Finau knew this was coming, even if no one else did.

Finau closed with a final-round 65 and defeated Came Smith on the first playoff hole in Monday’s final-round finish of the Northern Trust at Jersey City’s Liberty National.

The win ended a 1,975-day drought that spanned 143 tournament starts since Finau’s first and only PGA Tour victory, the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, which is an opposite-field event.

This was no opposite-field event. In fact, it was the opposite of an opposite-field event in that the world’s top 125 players were in this field and Finau took them all down, including No. 1 ranked Jon Rahm, who had a two-shot lead over him entering the day.

“I have an extreme belief in myself, and I have to,’’ the 31-year-old Finau said. “This game is hard as it is. These guys are so good as it is. If you can’t believe you can beat them, man, it’s just an uphill battle, and I just continue to believe. I believe in myself. I believe in my team.

“I haven’t had the wins to maybe have that type of confidence and belief, but you just have to. I have to believe I can go out there and beat J.T. [Justin Thomas] today, and I can beat Jon Rahm. I have to believe that, and I did, and I continue to do that, and that’s the only reason why I’m sitting here today as the champion.’’

Tony Finau
Getty Images

With Rahm, the 54-hole co-leader with Smith, Finau seized the tournament on the back nine, on which he shot 30. He played a five-hole stretch beginning at No. 12 in 5-under par, including a 3-foot eagle putt at 13, to pass Rahm.

Rahm, who won the U.S. Open in June, was tied for third at the British Open, and was playing for the first time since he tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time forcing him to miss the Tokyo Olympics. He had his chances to separate, but failed to when he missed a couple short-ish putts on Nos. 9 and 10.

Rahm then bogeyed Nos. 15 and 18 to shoot 69 and finished in third at 18-under.

“I haven’t been able to digest it,’’ Rahm said. “I think it’s going to be very easy to focus on maybe 15 on, [but] I did not make a putt all day. I felt like I could have had a bigger lead and that wasn’t the case.’’

Smith, who was two days removed from shooting a course-record 60 in the third round, made clutch birdies on 16 and 17 to get to 20-under and force a playoff with Finau, who was playing in the group ahead of him.

Then came the playoff, on which Finau split the 18th fairway with his drive and Smith sprayed his out of bounds right to make it easy on Finau the rest of the way in.

“Just a terrible swing, mate,’’ Smith said. “Just a mis-hit, and in these conditions, you can’t mis-hit the because ball just blew up in the wind and went a long ways right. My driver has cost me a few tournaments this year. That makes me more determined to try and figure it out before the end of the year.’’

The backdrop to the day as the tournament was trying to determine a winner was the frantic positioning by players to stay within the top 70 in FedEx Cup points needed to move on to this week’s BMW Championship in Maryland.

Tony Finau and Cameron Smith
Tony Finau and Cam Smith
AP

One player, Keith Mitchell, who began his week teaming with Harry Higgs in a Tuesday match against Phil Mickelson and Joel Dahmen, made a great run late in the round to qualify for the BMW. He was outside the 70 and birdied his final three holes to make it through.

“Usually there’s always next week,’’ said Mitchell, who began the week 101st in points. “Well, there is no next week if I don’t birdie those last three holes.’’

Higgs, who also leapfrogged his way into the top 70 to advance, was informed that Mickelson, who missed the cut, was on the bubble. Mickelson ended up advancing to the BMW as the last man in at No. 70.

“I would love to see Phil there,’’ Higgs said. “I would love to even take a another shot at him playing a practice round. I really enjoyed Tuesday. But I would be lying if I didn’t take pleasure in jumping ahead of him, potentially, before next week.’’

According to John Mutch, the PGA Tour referee for this event, the course took in nearly 9 inches of rain from Hurricane Henri. He said there was no structural damage to the course from wind, but all of the bunkers had to be repaired. Players were allowed to play lift, clean and place. For “safety precautions,’’ spectators were not allowed for the final round.

The final round, which was supposed to start at 7:30, was delayed another four hours while the course was being repaired.

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