The 3M Open should instead be sponsored by Google. In both years of its existence, the leaderboard has been filled with players you had to look up.
In Sunday’s final round, there was one in-his-prime, world-class player in contention: Tony Finau. He ranks 17th in the Official World Golf Rankings, and would be higher if he had performed better on previous Sundays. Last week, he led at the Memorial tournament but shot 73 and 78 in the last two rounds, falling rapidly out of contention.
At the Memorial, he faced a world-class field and lost to Jon Rahm, who moved to No. 1 in the world.
On a Sunday at the TPC Twin Cities, Finau was the class of the field. And he choked again.
That word shouldn’t be misunderstood. Nor should it be used lightly. Failure is part of sports. Failing is not necessarily choking. Choking connotes performing poorly because of pressure. Finau fits the definition.
Only two other players in the top 100 of the world golf rankings were in contention Sunday — defending 3M champion Matthew Wolff, who is 55th, and Charles Howell III, who is 86th.
Finau entered Sunday’s round trailing just two players — Michael Thompson, who hadn’t won since 2013, and Richy Werenski, who has never won on the PGA Tour.
Finau shot a 68 and finished in a mass tie for third. That 68 was better than the score shot by only two players who finished in the top 25: Werenski and Harris English.
Thompson’s victory and Finau’s latest failure could be summarized by a late-round sequence. Thompson had pulled his drive on the short par-4 16th. He was in a bunker, a mile from the hole. He hit a brilliant sand shot, leaving him a short birdie putt that all but secured his victory.
Finau was stepping to the 18th tee, knowing he needed an eagle to have a chance to win or force a playoff. He yanked his drive left, by the cart path, when what he needed was a shot down the right side of the fairway to set up an approach over water.
Entering Sunday, Finau ranked 171st on the PGA Tour in Sunday scoring average. Despite his world ranking and status as a Ryder Cup player, he has won only once on the PGA Tour — at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, in a playoff, over Steve Marino.
Over the past four years, Finau has 25 top-eight finishes without a win, the most on tour.
“Yeah, I think there’s a little bit of frustration, but not, you know, not a lot,” Finau said. “I hadn’t posted a top-10 before last week since I lost the tough one in Phoenix. So coming off quarantine, you never know where your game’s going to be. It took me a few weeks to just emotionally be competitive, and these last couple weeks have proved that I am. Like I said, with these major championships right around the corner, I’m really happy with where my game’s at.”
Golfers, pitchers and goalies read from the same script, because they all try to insulate themselves from negative thoughts. The closest Finau came to self-reflection during the post-round interview came when he said this: “You know, they don’t give out second-place trophies, third-place trophies, I’ve learned that the hard way with a lot of them coming early in my career, but I continue to just believe and hope for the best for my future.”
The 3M could have used a Finau victory. Hazeltine members are still smarting from Tiger Woods’ inability to beat Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship. Instead of being associated with golfing greatness, Hazeltine wound up with a champion who would never again win in America and would show little interest in returning to Minnesota.
Finau is one of the nicest people on tour. He has relatives in Minnesota. He could have written a nice story but instead wrote the same old story, the one where he chokes on Sunday.