Steve Marino birdied the par-five 18th to get in the clubhouse at 12 under par, but Tony Finau matched that number and defeated him in a playoff for his first career PGA Tour victory on Sunday at the Puerto Rico Open.
Finau posted a two-under 70 to tie Marino and won with a birdie at the third extra hole in Rio Grande. The pair edged out 54-hole leader and Finau's final pairing partner—Ian Poulter—and Rodolfo Cazaubon by one stroke in regulation, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
Poulter had a bogey and a birdie at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, but parred the rest of his holes to settle for a tie for third. Below is an overview of the top performers and payouts from the relatively small tournament purse at Coco Beach Golf and Country Club:
|Pos.||Player||Scores||To Par||Prize Money|
Both men sprayed their tee shots off to the right not long after returning to the 18th tee for the playoff. They missed left of the green in two, with the advantage going to Finau since Marino faced a long bunker shot.
An exceptional third from Marino to eight feet put the pressure back on Finau, who responded by pitching up to within a foot of the cup. Marino drained the clutch putt to continue the playoff. The two birdied the 18th again with big-time putts as they both pursued their maiden tour trophies.
Finau's blend of length and finesse proved too much. He converted a sand save from about three feet for birdie to come out on top after Marino took three putts from 35 feet on the fringe.
ESPN.com's Jason Sobel hinted at the tantalizing skill set and upside Finau has following the last round's epic conclusion:
Tony Finau wins the Puerto Rico Open in a playoff. First victory of his career and could be the first of many. Dude has superstar potential.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) March 27, 2016
Capitalizing on his prodigious power earlier in the round to make his initial ascent, Finau carded birdies at both par fives on the opening nine at the second and fifth. He tacked on another birdie at No. 9 to turn in 33 and made another birdie at the par-four 10th to take greater command.
But a dropped shot at the par-three 11th that came after his tee shot found the fringe showed Finau was feeling some nerves down the stretch. He also bogeyed the par-five 15th, which dwindled his two-shot lead to one.
Will Gray of Golf Channel referred to the captivating storylines to unfold during Sunday's final round, as Poulter sought to regain form and Mexico's Cazaubon pursued an extraordinary opportunity:
With WGC intermission, things heating up in Puerto Rico. Finau chasing 1st win, Poulter chasing redemption, Cazaubon chasing Olympic bid...— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) March 27, 2016
The aforementioned strength Finau possesses came in handy at the last hole, where he muscled a massive slice from under a tree to the right of the fairway to position himself for a closing birdie.
Unfortunately, his gutsy second shot led to a plugged lie in the greenside bunker. If Finau was going to win, he'd have to execute some short-game magic—and he did just that, blasting out to about six feet.
But Finau missed the potential winning putt, forcing extra action alongside Marino. Rotowire's Jeremy Schilling noted how Finau put a good stroke on his ball as opposed to letting the big moment get the better of him with a poor effort:
That was a mere precursor to the drama still to play out in the extra session in which both Marino and Finau were worthy of winning.
Poulter had a birdie opportunity from approximately 15 feet out on the 72nd hole but missed on the low side. Two Inches Short criticized his attempt:
Poulter misses a putt on the low side to tie. As Dan Hicks would say, did you expect anything different?— Two Inches Short (@TwoInchesShort) March 27, 2016
He'll likely be disappointed with his performance in the last round, yet the Englishman at least carved out a strong result after missing out on the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play field.
Coming into this event, Finau had just snapped a string of 15 rounds without breaking 70 but had still missed five of his prior seven cuts. The 26-year-old American needed something to go right, and he wound up with a landmark triumph.
Kurt Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune highlighted the gains Finau reaped at Coco Beach:
Again, because it's an opposite-field event, the winner won't get Masters invitation. But the $540,000 would spend. Also, 2-yr exemption— Kurt Kragthorpe (@tribkurt) March 27, 2016
Golf Channel's Justin Ray showed how Finau's victorious predecessors have used the Puerto Rico Open as a massive momentum booster:
Puerto Rico as launching point:— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) March 27, 2016
2013 - Spieth finishes T2
2014 - Hadley wins; earns ROY
2015 - Grillo loses in playoff
2016 - Finau wins...
After making some noise at the majors last year with a tie for 14th at the U.S. Open and a top-10 finish at the PGA Championship, Finau has served notice to the golf world that he can get it done on the big circuit.
Although this tournament may not be the most lucrative or high-profile affair starting opposite this week's World Golf Championships match-play showcase, it's nevertheless a significant milestone for Finau and others.
Players such as Marino—who's coming on stronger from injury woes in recent years—Andres Romero, first-round leader Rafael Campos and Cazaubon also made big strides this week.
Despite their top-10 finishes not netting them the paydays of most other PGA Tour events, they've gained access to the field in next week's Shell Houston Open, which features a purse of $6.8 million compared to the Puerto Rico Open's $3 million.
Dealing with the pressure of closing out a tournament isn't easy, and Finau didn't take anything for granted even as the promise of a life-changing win loomed.
"I didn't ever think I had this tournament until the last putt dropped," said Finau, per the Augusta Chronicle's Scott Michaux.
PGA Tour player Justin Thomas was among those to congratulate Finau on his maiden win:
Poulter also spoke briefly about his day and did his best to reflect on the positives, but couldn't hide his dissatisfaction.
"It's a shame. Just slightly disappointing," said Poulter, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "I'm continuing to work on the game to try and improve, and I know if I rectify a couple of poor shots, then my game will improve. Obviously, hitting shots slightly too far right at certain times is costly."