Finau leads Simpson by one at Waste Management Phoenix Open
Presidents Cup teammates have vastly different histories at TPC Scottsdale
February 01, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Tony Finau's Round 3 highlights from Waste Management
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Tony Finau came to the Waste Management Phoenix Open riding more of a dubious achievement than a streak, having missed the cut in his last four attempts.
Webb Simpson, conversely, had done everything but win it, posting six top-20 finishes.
They will be separated by just a stroke going into Sunday. Finau (62, 16 under) is bidding to win for the first time since the 2016 Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach, while Simpson (64, one back) is still seeking his first victory since the 2018 PLAYERS Championship.
“If I want to accomplish the things I feel like I can accomplish, I have to put those types of expectations on myself,” Finau (62) said when asked about winning again after a nearly four-year drought. “I look forward to tomorrow. My game’s in a good place, and I always tell myself whatever happens, you’re going to learn from it and get better and stronger.”
Finau leads the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (+9.435) and Scrambling (12/13), and the 62 matched his career low. He hit 12 of 14 fairways after hitting just 13 of 28 the first two days.
But what’s with his record at this rowdy, perfectly manicured course in the desert?
“No, it’s crazy,” said Finau, who is coming off a T6 at the Farmers Insurance Open, earlier this week. “I like the golf course. I like the vibe. I like the energy. Just haven’t performed.”
Well, now he has.
Simpson’s round included an ace at the 196-yard 12th hole. He not only has a good track record at TPC Scottsdale, he came into this week with top-10s in all three of his starts this season.
“My first thought was that couldn’t have gone in,” Simpson said of the ace, his third on TOUR, which he made with a 7-iron. “And then it dawned on me they were really excited (in the crowd), so it was fun.”
Webb Simpson's Round 3 highlights from Waste Management
Should he and Finau falter, Hudson Swafford (66) and J.B. Holmes (70), a two-time winner here, are only two off the lead at 14 under par.
Xander Schauffele (66, 13 under), who has a history of going low to win, is only three back along with Adam Long (66) and Scott Piercy (68).
Simpson leads the field in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green (5.939). He finished runner-up here in 2017, and is seeking his sixth TOUR victory.
“I’ve learned from every tournament, good or bad,” he said of his close calls, which included a runner-up at The RSM Classic to start his season and a third at the recent Sony Open in Hawaii. “I know what I’ve done wrong in the past, I guess, year, year and a half.
“But I’ve also had a few seconds where guys have shot 8- or 9-under,” he added.
Other than Simpson’s ace, the shot of the third round was arguably Finau’s tee ball at the rowdy par-3 16th, which he again played wearing the late Kobe Bryant’s jersey. The ball nearly landed in the cup, and he made the five-footer from behind the hole for birdie.
“That was quite fun to hit that shot,” Finau said. “And man, I’m pretty happy with being a couple under in that Kobe jersey; looks like I’ll be wearing it tomorrow.”
A massive Los Angeles Lakers fan, Finau spoke about trying to emulate Bryant’s drive, a legacy of “hard work and so much love for your craft that you get lost in your work.”
He also may be drawing on his steely resolve at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne, where the U.S. Team roared back on the final day to win a squeaker. Although his record was only 0-1-3, Finau came up clutch, especially as he birdied the last two holes of a Four Ball match in which he and partner Matt Kuchar clawed their way back to tie Byeong Hun An and Adam Scott.
Time will tell whether the legacy of Bryant, or memories of clutch play at the Presidents Cup, will steady him enough for his second TOUR win.
“I’ve got 18 holes to try and win this golf tournament,” Finau said, “and my expectation is exactly that.”