Attack is Finau's game plan

It has been a breakthrough year for Tony Finau, teeing off during the second round of the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai yesterday. He had 10 top-10 finishes and made the United States Ryder Cup team.
It has been a breakthrough year for Tony Finau, teeing off during the second round of the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai yesterday. He had 10 top-10 finishes and made the United States Ryder Cup team. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

American determined to hold off chasing pack as he recovers from bad break to lead by 3 shots

SHANGHAI • From 10 top-10 finishes at PGA Tour events last season to making the United States Ryder Cup team, it has been such a breakthrough year for Tony Finau that he was not going to let a bad break ruin his day.

He had snatched the lead from overnight leader Patrick Reed and was pulling away after birdies on five of the first 10 holes, despite swirling winds at the Sheshan International Golf Club.

But disaster nearly struck when his approach on the par-four 11th landed smack on a greenside sprinkler and bounded past the hole into a hazard, leading to a double-bogey.

That freak bounce would have deflated most players, but not Finau, who finished with a splendid five-under 67 for a three-stroke lead at the midway point of the WGC-HSBC Champions yesterday.

Afterwards, he could see the funny side of the incident, with the first golfer of Polynesian descent to play on the PGA Tour righting the ship by following up his improbable bad luck with three birdies down the stretch for a total of eight.

"That's about as bad a break as I have ever had. But one thing I learnt from this game is you take the good with the bad. I knew I was still playing well and there was a lot of golf to be played," said the world No. 17, who moved to 11-under 133, with Reed and two others on 136.

And the 29-year-old wants to translate his consistency into a title victory in Shanghai, with his last PGA Tour win coming at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open.

"I played nicely and was happy with the way I finished. There's a lot of great players here that are looking to chase me down," he added.

"I've got to stay in attack mode, continue to make birdies and, if I limit the mistakes, it will be a good weekend."

Masters champion Reed's steady progress on the back of seven straight pars was dampened by a bogey on the 14th, but a birdie on the 16th ensured he finished with a 72, sitting on eight under alongside English duo Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood.

Defending champion Rose fired a five-birdie, bogey-free 67 to put himself back in contention, while Fleetwood signed for a second consecutive 68.

American Xander Schauffele made a birdie on the final hole for a 71 to finish on seven under, a shot ahead of compatriot Patrick Cantlay, while Belgian Thomas Pieters sank an eagle at the par-five 14th to match the lowest round of the week with a 64.

However, other big names were off the pace at the US$10 million (S$13.8 million) tournament dubbed "Asia's Major".

Newly crowned world No. 1 Brooks Koepka struggled to a 74 to enter the weekend on two over, while Dustin Johnson, the player he replaced at the top, was another stroke behind.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2018, with the headline 'Attack is Finau's game plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe