Finau outlasts Rahm at Vidanta
2023 Mexico Open leaderboard, grades: Tony Finau outlasts world No. 1 Jon Rahm for victory at Vidanta
Finau became the fourth PGA Tour player to record multiple victories this season with his win in Mexico.
"Confidence when you win is contagious," said Tony Finau after winning the 2022 Houston Open for his fifth career title on the PGA Tour. At the 2023 Mexico Open on Sunday, Finau's confidence was on full display as he outmanned and outgunned the hottest player in the world, Jon Rahm, en route to his sixth victory and fourth in his last 18 starts with a 24-under performance.
Beginning the day with a two-stroke lead over his good friend and playing partner most off weeks in Scottsdale, Arizona, Finau squashed the thought of any potential duel from the very start. A birdie on the opener saw Finau expand his lead to three before three casual pars on the next three.
Up ahead in the penultimate group, Brandon Wu would make his presence known. Carding three birdies and an eagle in his first seven holes, the 26-year-old momentarily caught Finau at 21 under. However, that would be as close Wu would get as mistakes piled up while Finau's quality began to persist.
A birdie on the par-3 5th was followed by a nifty par save on the 6th, a crucial birdie on No. 7 and an even more critical par on the 8th. Finau turned in 3 under, and not only regained the lead but grew his margin as a three-stroke edge was in his hands despite Rahm, Wu and Akshay Bhatia all throwing their fair share of punches.
Unfortunately for the chasing pack, none of them would land and no noticeable unease would imprint on the leader.
The final nine from Finau was a masterclass on how to play with a large lead. Laying up short of trouble, converting birdie opportunities when presented and slowly draining the life out of the tournament and his fellow competitors, the 33-year-old's inward half 34 meant a final round 66 and a three-stroke victory.
This all -- staring the world No. 1 square in the eyes and sneakily becoming one of the most prominent winners on Tour – probably doesn't materialize for Finau if this tournament was just three years in the past. Enduring a five-year winless drought over 142 tournaments, Finau has now won five times since his victory in the 2021 FedEx Cup Playoffs at the Northern Trust just 41 starts ago.
"On Sunday out here I've learned that you just have to be aggressive, you have to make birdies," said Finau. "Guys are going to make birdies. There's so many great players, especially someone of Rahmbo's stature … So my mindset on Sundays I think has just changed. You never get comfortable with the lead. That's my nature, anyway, is to be an aggressive player. I always have been that way, and so Sundays are starting to shape up better for me since I've been in contention, but I think I just have learned a lot."
With this win, Finau becomes the fourth player on the PGA Tour to claim multiple victories on the season joining Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Max Homa. Rarely is he discussed in such company as he has yet to win an upper echelon event such as the Genesis Invitational let alone a major championship.
However, just like Finau's former inability to close, expect him to figure this out and soon. With the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club quickly approaching, Finau will be among those capable of taking down Rahm (as he did today) and the other members of the true elite such as Scheffler. His iron play tops the PGA Tour over the last six months, and his confidence may not be far behind.
"Anytime you can battle with a guy like Jon Rahm, who's in the form that he was, and come out on top, it makes me feel good," said Finau. Rahm is a good friend of mine, we practice quite a bit together, so having Rahmbo as, like, a sparring partner for me has only made me better and I hope he can say the same.
"As far as my future, you never know what your future holds, but take it a day at a time and this is a nice step in the right direction on my season. We'll just continue to stack up hopefully some wins and some major championships in the future." Grade: A+
Here is the breakdown for the rest of the leaderboard at the 2023 Mexico Open
2. Jon Rahm (-21): The world No. 1 could have joined the illustrious five-win club with a successful title defense (which also would have been the first of his career). Had Rahm won, he would have been the fastest to five wins in a season since Johnny Miller in 1974. Instead, he will have to wait. Even the best gets outmaneuvered sometimes, and after firing a course-record 61 on Saturday, Rahm was not able to replicate such an effort on Sunday. Rahm is set to forgo his first elevated event of the season at next week's Wells Fargo Championship, meaning the next time we see him will be the PGA Championship at Oak Hill CC. After weeks of media obligations following his Masters victory, the absence in Charlotte makes some sense and is more than well deserved. Grade: A-
3. Brandon Wu (-19): Three birdies and an eagle in his first seven holes saw Wu momentarily grab a share of the lead. He immediately gave a shot back on the par-4 8th and was unable to muster together the magic on the back nine. Wu finished in a flurry with a then-course record 63 to finish runner up to Rahm in 2022, and a similar felling engulfed Vidanta on Sunday. The 26-year-old is still without a victory on the PGA Tour although he has become a sneaky good coastal-course player with his results at Vidanta, Puerto Rico and even Scotland. Grade: A
4. Akshay Bhatia (-18): Despite falling short, the 21-year-old impressed early in the final group alongside Rahm and Finau. Bhatia made two birdies in his opening six holes to reach 19 under before the wheels began to fall off. He's still so young and has so much to learn, but the implementation of AimPoint on the greens proved to be a massive difference maker and may continue to be one down the road. Bhatia will aim to gather even more experience such as this as he continues to play out his special temporary membership. Grade: A
T25. Wyndham Clark (-10): After experiencing a close call a week ago at the Zurich Classic, Clark appeared primed to finally break through. He got off to a slow start and was never able to recover as the top of the leaderboard ran away from the field. Overall, it was just a ho-hum week for the Scottsdale area resident as he ranked outside the top 20 in each major strokes gained category. He's enjoying a fantastic year from a statistical perspective, and while Clark would love to contend at designated events, it's these regular tournaments at which he will need to make his hay. Grade: C
T39. Gary Woodland (-7): The 2019 U.S. Open champion continues to strike the ball soundly as he ranked third in strokes gained tee to green on the week thanks to strong efforts both off the tee and on approach. Woodland even got something from his short game – a somewhat rare occurrence – but once again fell flat with the putter. After making the cut on the number, Woodland fought his way up the leaderboard through the final 36 holes, but ultimately the lack of consistently holing putts (he ranked last in strokes gained putting) was too much to overcome. Grade: D
Source: CBS Sports