Tony Finau might be the biggest conundrum in all of professional sports, and that was on display again on Sunday at the Genesis Invitational, where he lost to Max Homa in a playoff after firing a final round 64.
One one hand, Finau shot a 64 on a day when nobody else cracked 66 and played maybe the round of the week in a field that was absolutely loaded. On the other hand, he needed to get up and down from a fairly straightforward spot on a playoff hole that was playing well under par on the day, and he could not do it. Even with his competitor needing to bend his club around a tree his ball was up against, Finau tied that playoff hole and lost the next to finish solo second at Riviera.
How you balance those two realities says a lot about how you view Finau in general.
On the First Cut Podcast on Sunday evening, we all just threw up our hands and yelled at each other about it all. This was by far Finau's best performance at an event when entering the final round in the top five, and yet he had a win right there for the taking in a playoff, and he did not take it.
The good news here is that Finau seems to be pushing harder for wins at closing time. Two of his four best final-round performances when entering in the top five have come in the last month (including two of the just three times he's cracked 68 on a Sunday with the pressure on).
"I played really nicely today and I think that's going to be the big takeaway of the week from me is, you know, anytime I've had a chance to win, I haven't been the guy that went low and today I was," he accurately stated after his round. "So I can take a lot of confidence from that. That's something that I wanted to happen today to just prove to myself on Sundays that I can put myself in the thick of it and shoot a number and I was able to do that this week."
On the flip side, Finau wasn't truly in the mix until really late in the day. He didn't backdoor his way into the playoff, but the heat wasn't on until late either. Then with it turned up, he played it par-bogey and finished runner up for the third straight tournament he reached in a playoff in. This is exasperating to watch and has to be even more so for him to experience. Consider this stat from Justin Ray of the 15th Club. It contextualizes how Finau can be one of the best players in the world and yet only have one PGA Tour win (in 2016) perfectly.
Finau now has a staggering 37 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour since that win, fourth-most of any player in that span. The only 3 players with more than him -- Thomas, Johnson and Jon Rahm -- have combined to win 29 times in that stretch.
Sunday encapsulates the entire conversation around Finau. He's a terrific golfer -- that's not really up for debate -- but when it comes time to shut things down, his talent seems to evaporate. In some ways he has too much talent, as it relates to the conversations we have about him. He's good enough to get in the mix but never shuts it down. If he had just shot 68 on Sunday, we wouldn't even be discussing him. Statistically, it seems like an impossibility that he hasn't won, too. Data Golf has him at 2.5 expected wins given his Sunday play since his Puerto Rico Open win in 2016, and yet he has zero.
So was Sunday the same as all the rest of them? Sort of! Finau entered with a sliver of a chance of winning, roughly 4% based on his T5 position going into Sunday. It was about the 20th best chance he's had to win on a Sunday since he last won in Puerto Rico, but based on his play -- irrespective of how everyone else played -- he raised those odds to about a 33% chance of winning. Homa played great and got into a playoff with Finau (nothing Finau could do about that!) but then Finau gave away a win that should have been his on the first playoff hole.
So with the pressure mostly off early on Sunday, he was amazing and then with it on in the playoff, he was not. A decent snapshot of the full Finau experience.
I'm a believer in statistics so it seems inevitable that Finau will fall into one of these at some point if he continues to play even remotely like this. But then you watch them go down and it brings doubt into play, at least for us, the viewers. Finau's words are as confident as ever.
"I'm not a quitter, I'm not someone that's going to fade away into the sunset because I can't win in these situations," he said. "I had another great shot today. I don't know what else I can say other than I enjoy playing good golf and one of these days it will happen for me and hopefully turn into kind of a domino effect."
So there was encouragement from his foray into the mid-60s (something he's never done before on a Sunday when in contention) but then discouragement that he played so poorly in the playoff. Optimism and pessimism. Excitement and disappointment. Much like most other Finau weeks, only even more exacerbated than normal.