Tony Finau survived what was not his best golf on Saturday in Round 3 of the 2018 WGC-HSBC Champions. Finau was even par through 15 holes but finished birdie-birdie-birdie to shoot a 2-under 70 and take a three-stroke lead over Xander Schauffele, Justin Rose and Patrick Reed going into the final round. Rose was the one who looked as if he would lead going into Sunday, but double bogey-bogey closing kick led to him and Finau essentially swapping spots, even though Rose was in control for most of the day.
The shot of the day belonged to Finau, too. He stuck his tee shot at the 212-yard par-3 17th. “This is a great looking thing,” yelped the European announcer as Finau nearly jarred the shot. It was, and it nearly fell. He sandwiched that easy birdie with birdies at the par-4 16th and par-5 18th for the 70 to get to 13 under for the week.
“That was my best stuff there,” Finau said. “I was really able to strike an iron. Any time you can have a kick-in on a hole like that — you’re just trying to make a three — it’s a big bonus. For sure out of the three, that’s the one that sticks out.”
Fianu is the one who has been sticking out on the PGA Tour of late. His closing run last season where he finished in the top 15 five times in six events bumped him onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team and set him up for even more success in 2018-19.
Still, he knows that with a couple of major winners just behind him and guys like Tommy Fleetwood (-8) and Jason Day (-6), anything can and probably will. Remember, Dustin Johnson coughed up an eight-stroke lead to Rose after three rounds at this very tournament last year.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” Finau said. “Eighteen holes, I’ve got a world-class field chasing after me. This is the position you want to be in and you know, I’ll be looking to close out my first tournament in this position, which is exciting for me. Whether it happens or not, it’s an experience that you learn from and you continue to move forward. So I put myself in a great position going into tomorrow, and I’m going to have fun no matter the outcome and hopefully make a lot of birdies and have those guys have to do something special tomorrow to beat me.”
Here are three more takeaways from Round 3.
1. How painful was the Rose close? With about 30 minutes left in the day, Finau led Rose by a pair going to the par-3 17th and needed a par-par finish to tie the round of the day with a 67. Then Rose doubled No. 17 and Finau birdied, and it was Finau who led by one. Then Rose went in the water on No. 18, Finau birdied again and leads by three. Rose ended with a 70, same as Finau.
“Tough finish,” Rose said. “Missed it in the spot you can’t miss it on on 17 and that’s such a disaster of an area. You can’t drop it. You can’t chip it. You can’t do anything down there. So that took about half an hour. Great tee shot on 18. It was a good bounce back there and just leaked a 4-iron a little bit, but yeah, so three back going into tomorrow, which is not exactly how it looked like it was going to be with a couple holes to play.”
2. Toughest day: Maybe it was leaderboard nerves, maybe it was the windy conditions in Shanghai. Whatever the case, Saturday’s Round 3 produced the worst scores of the first three days of competition.
“The course is tricky,” said Xander Schauffele, who shot 69 and is T2. “The wind on the ground, we don’t really feel much. The trees are dense; so once the ball gets up above the trees, it sort of does its own thing. Just happy to hang in there and come out on top on the day.”
3. The struggle is real: This from Fleetwood’s caddie Ian Finnis was hilarious and amazing. I cannot stop watching the whiff! Fleetwood shot an even-par 72 on Saturday and at 8 under is still within striking distance.
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