Finau front and centre in the stats that defined July on the PGA Tour
Around this time a year ago, the pervasive narrative surrounding Tony Finau was that of a PGA Tour star who just couldn't find a way to close. Time and again, the Utah native would charge up weekend leaderboards only to come up short at the end.
"They say a winner is just a loser that just kept on trying, and that's me to a T," he said. "How many times do I lose?"
The answer? Well, let's put it this way: he hasn't been losing much these days.
After winning just once in his first 188 career starts, Finau now finds himself on the heels of back-to-back wins at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic. Add in his breakthrough victory in last season's FedEx Cup opener, and the Salt Lake City resident has found the winner's circle three times in his last 25 starts.
Suffice to say, the narrative has changed.
"I put myself in situations to win before, haven't been able to do it, but I'm very optimistic," Finau said. "I've always been that way. I've always had hope and faith that things will turn out if I just keep working hard and putting myself there.
"I challenge myself every week to just push past what I feel like I'm capable of; by that I mean just my emotions, those hurdles that you face during a tournament. I proved to myself these last couple weeks that I've done that and won some golf tournaments. I'm proud of the way that I fought through adversity through my career and now I'm a back-to-back champion. That's what happens."
At the 3M Open, he erased a five-shot deficit with 11 holes to play after overnight leader Scott Piercy tripled the 14th hole. It was much smoother a week later, as the 32-year-old cruised to a five-shot triumph and a tournament record 26-under 262 total.
Finau hit a career-best 66 greens in regulation in that second victory, which also marked the third-most by a winner on the PGA Tour since 1980. Aaron Wise and Hale Irwin matched that feat at the 2018 Byron Nelson and 1981 Sony Open, respectively, while Peter Jacobsen holds the record with 69 greens in regulation at the 1995 Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Willie Wood hit 67 greens en route to the 1996 Sanderson Farms Championship.
His precision netted Finau a plus-4.65 stroke differential from the field average, his highest difference during an event on the PGA Tour. It barely edged out the career-best he set just a week prior at the 3M Open (plus-4.37) and safely beat his next-best marks of plus-3.70 (2021 St. Jude Championship) and plus-2.73, set at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, site of his first Tour victory.
Xander does it, too
But Finau wasn't the only player making significant moves in July. Though his triumphs didn't come in consecutive weeks, Xander Schauffele also managed to find the winner's circle in back-to-back appearances.
After winning the Travelers Championship in late June, the former gold medallist travelled across the pond and did it all over again in his next start at the Scottish Open. He became the third player to pick up at least three wins this season (Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns are the others) and is one of three players to win this year in consecutive starts (Scheffler and Finau).
But how Schauffele did it may be the most impressive aspect. The San Diego native trailed by a whopping 11 strokes after the opening round, marking the largest 18-hole deficit overcome by a PGA Tour winner in a four-round event in the last 39 years. Seven other players rallied from 10-shot deficits – most recently Webb Simpson at the 2020 Phoenix Open – but no one overcame the odds that Schauffele did.
"Overall, I'm playing some of the best golf of my life and capitalising on playing really well," Schauffele said. "There's a lot of times [when] professionals play very well but don't get everything out of it, and I feel like I've been successful in getting the most out of my game."
Together, Schauffele and Finau became the fifth and six players to win back-to-back tournaments on Tour since the start of the 2016-17 season, joining Patrick Cantlay, Brendon Todd, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas.
Being able to call yourself The Players champion is one of the most prestigious honuors in golf. The biggest names in the sport have all done it, from Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy.
But add in a victory at The Open Championship and you're in unprecedented territory.
That's exactly what Australian Cameron Smith did in July at golf's oldest championship, edging out McIlroy at St Andrews to win the Claret Jug. He became just the second player in history to win The Players and Open Championship in the same year, joining none other than Nicklaus. He, too, also won his major at the historic St Andrews after winning The Players earlier in 1978.
It wasn't Smith's only achievement that week. No winner had ever closed with a 64 at St Andrews before he did it, while his finishing score of 20-under 268 set a new Old Course record. It tied the lowest score to par in major championship history – Henrik Stenson shot 20 under at Royal Troon in 2016 – and his back-nine 30 was the lowest ever by an Open Championship winner.
"I got beaten by the better player this week," McIlroy said. "To go out and shoot 64 to win The Open Championship at St Andrews is a hell of a showing. Hats off to Cam."
Smith is the first Australian to win the Claret Jug since 1993 and the first to do it at St Andrews since Kel Nagle staved off Arnold Palmer in 1960.
"Those guys are great players. They weren't going to give it to me. I had to take it," Smith said. "It was a good thing that I was behind. My mindset would have been a touch different coming in, especially on that back nine, if I was ahead."