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This time, Tony Finau’s healthy … and ready to win a green jacket

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AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 13: Tony Finau of the United States plays a shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 13: Tony Finau of the United States plays a shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

    Written by Mike McAllister @PGATOUR_MikeMc

    AUGUSTA, Ga. – A year ago, Tony Finau hobbled around Augusta National on a dislocated left ankle, gamely staying in contention despite an injury that was as ugly-looking as it was painful. On the plus side, he showed the golf world how not to celebrate a hole-in-one during the Par 3 Contest.

    Then at this week’s Par 3 Contest, he “celebrated” the injury with a special high-top green golf shoe made specifically for him by Nike. The easy-going Finau changed into the left shoe when he got to the seventh hole, prompting all sorts of chuckles and good will. “If you can’t laugh at yourself in something like that,” Finau said, “then I think you’re doing it all wrong.”

    He’s obviously been building up good karma this week. More important, his power game seems ready-made for Augusta National, evident by Saturday’s 8-under 64 that moved him to 11 under and into a tie for second with Tiger Woods. They’ll be in the final threesome on Sunday at 9:20 a.m. ET with 54-hole leader Francesco Molinari, who’s two strokes ahead.

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    Molinari, arguably the hottest player going. Woods, the four-time Masters champ. Finau, whose lone TOUR win came three years ago at the Puerto Rico Open. His credentials may be less impressive than his playing partners, but his game is ready for a huge life-changing victory, of which Augusta National has a habit of providing. Seven of the last eight Masters winners have been first-time major winners.

    Plus, Finau has been killing it on the par 5s, with eight birdies and an eagle in 12 holes played this week. The eagle came Saturday at the eighth hole when his 4-iron from 260 yards finished a foot from the pin. As he walked toward the green, Rickie Fowler was walking down the ninth fairway and gave Finau a thumb’s up on the shot.

    “History always tells us the guys that play the par 5s well are the ones that go on to win the tournament and that go on to be in contention,” Finau said. “Par 5s, that’s where my advantage is anyway, but in emphasis here at Augusta National, you have to play the par 5s well to win.”

    While the pressure of a Sunday battle at Augusta National will be new for him, feeling the heat of a major certainly is not. He was one of the four 54-hole co-leaders last year at the U.S. Open, and opened the final round with three bogeys in his first four holes. But instead of completely disappearing, he regrouped to shoot a final-round 72 at Shinnecock Hills that left him solo fifth.

    The lessons learned that day should serve him well on Sunday. “I’ve learned some things about that finish that I can apply to tomorrow and hopefully do better,” Finau said.

    It’s a huge day for Finau, who not only gets to chase the green jacket but will do so while playing alongside his childhood idol in Woods. The first tournament Finau ever watched was the 1997 Masters, when Woods wiped out the field by 12 strokes in winning the first of his current 14 majors. Finau wasn’t even a golfer at the time, but he took up the game that summer, inspired by what he saw on television that week.

    “Tiger is a huge, huge inspiration and influence on me,” Finau said. “That ’97 Masters meant a lot.”

    The 2019 Masters could mean even more if Finau gets the job done Sunday. It’s already been a big week – for his eagle on Saturday and for shooting one of the low rounds of the day, he’ll receive a pair of crystal glasses and a crystal vase. They’ll go into Finau’s trophy case at home.

    He has other items in there, too, celebrating his golfing accomplishments. But it’s not too crowded. “Plenty of room for a green jacket, I know that,” Finau said with a smile.

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