LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Tony Finau was on fire in the Arizona desert yesterday, posting an eagle and seven birdies in a nine-under par 62 for a one-shot lead in the US PGA Tour Phoenix Open.
Finau’s 16-under par total of 197 put him one in front of fellow American Webb Simpson, whose seven-under 64 included a hole in one at the par-three 12th.
Overnight leader JB Holmes carded a one-under 70 on the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course and was tied for third with Hudson Swafford (66) on 199.
“I hit more fairways today, so I was able to give myself some short irons into the par-fours,” said Finau, who started the day four strokes off Holmes’s lead.
He hit 12 of 14 fairways in regulation and 15 of 18 greens and said the round didn’t require a lot of thinking.
“Not too much going on upstairs, you’re looking and you’re hitting,” he said “The big thing is to capitalise. The greens are so good here, the golf course is in such great shape, you’ve got to capitalise when you hit it close.”
Finau was five-under for the day when he rolled in a 20-foot eagle putt at the 13th.
He had a six-footer for eagle at 15 but settled for a birdie.
At 16 – where thousands jam the bleacher seats and pricier hospitality suites to create a raucous atmosphere at the par-three hole – Finau again donned a Kobe Bryant jersey in honour of the NBA great who died in a helicopter crash last week at the age of 41.
He belted a tee shot that hit inches from the cup and left him a five-footer for his last birdie of the day.
“I had a perfect number for a sand wedge and went ahead and just fired at the pin,” Finau said. “Nearly made it.
“That would have been pretty sweet with the Kobe jersey on, but I liked that,” added Finau, who is seeking a second US PGA Tour title to go with the Puerto Rico Open victory in 2016.
Simpson’s biggest shot of the day came before a smaller but equally enthusiastic gallery at the 12th, where his tee shot from 196 yards took a couple of bounces and rolled right in.
“It was a perfect number for a seven-iron,” he said. “I quit watching it because I’m getting older and I can’t see it once it hits the green so I wasn’t even watching.
“But the crowd got excited so I looked up … I was shocked.”
Simpson said he’d have to keep the accelerator down today to claim his first win since the 2018 Players Championship.
“Tony played great today, there’s guys within reach,” Simpson said. “I would imagine it’s going to take another really solid round, maybe even a really low round to win.”