Tony Finau can do no wrong, records 10th straight round of 68 or better at FedEx St. Jude Championship

Photo: Christine Tannous/The Commercial Appeal

It’s a good thing that Tony Finau learned to fire knife dance as a kid.

His golf game has been on a serious heater of late. The 32-year-old Utah native of Tongan descent has registered victories in his two most recent PGA Tour starts. He fired 6-under 64, two strokes off the lead, at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee, on Thursday to continue his blistering run at the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

“It started with a lowlight, duck hooked my first tee shot,” said Finau, who trails Si Woo Kim and J.J. Spaun during the first round. “But I got lucky, had a shot, put it on the front of the green and chipped in. It wasn’t the ideal birdie start, but we’re off and running.”

Finau, who entered the week in seventh place in the FedEx Cup standings, recorded his 10th straight round of 68 or lower, becoming just the eighth player since 1995 to do so, and is four rounds away from matching the longest streak during that time frame held by Tiger Woods.

Finau had gone 143 starts and a span of 1,975 days between victories at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open and the 2021 Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey. That event was replaced by the St. Jude as the first of three FedEx Cup Playoff events. Technically, Finau is considered the defending champion this week.

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“Quite a different place,” he said Tuesday during his pre-tournament press conference. “It’s definitely strange defending on a golf course that I haven’t won on.”

Finau won the 3M Open and the Rocket Mortgage Classic seven days apart, but credits his win a year ago to kick off the playoffs as his breakthrough.

“Usually the hardest one to win is your first one,” Finau said. “Mine was the Northern Trust because of how much time was in between the two and my own expectations in my mind of what could be and all the close calls I had. So, to overcome that hurdle was huge and I think it’s kind of proven that over this last month.”

Finau skipped last week’s tournament, the Wyndham Championship. He hosted his charity fundraiser and celebrated with his family, including a birthday party for his daughter at a pool, where he was caught on video accidentally dropping his wife’s cell phone in the water while dancing. The phone survived, and it led to Finau rehashing the story of his days as a Polynesian dancer.

“My mom had a luau, a traveling luau, so that’s why I had to learn how to do the fire knife dance,” he explained. “I’m not shy to dance and entertain just because I’ve been doing that since I was young and things.”

Finau also made sure he kept his game sharp by playing at home every day.

“I know how big these three weeks are,” he said.

Kim, who shot 28 on the back nine, the lowest nine-hole score of his career, and Spaun, who won the Valero Texas Open in April, shot matching 62s to share the lead.

2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship

J.J. Spaun and his caddie line up a putt during the first round of the 2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports)

Scoring was low due to heavy rain earlier this week that saturated the course, which led to a decision to play preferred lies in the fairways during the opening round. Thirteen players shot 65 or better in the morning wave, but one notable player who struggled was World No. 1 and FedEx Cup leader Scottie Scheffler. He was 4 over after five holes on his way to shooting 1-over 71.

One of the more pleasant surprises of the opening round was the play of Rickie Fowler, who snuck into the playoffs as the last man in the field of 125.

Despite ending his partnership with longtime caddie Joe Skovron this week, Fowler made an eagle and five birdies and shot 65 with a new putter in the bag too. Fowler’s lost touch on the green has been the biggest contributor to his slump and remains a mystery. He ranked first in Strokes Gained: putting during the 2016-17 season, but has plummeted to No. 179 this season, the worst performance of his career. On Tuesday, one of his former college teammates at Oklahoma State who works as an equipment rep for puttermaker Scotty Cameron, showed off a new Newport 2 Plus model on the practice-putting green.

“Hit a couple putts with it, everything looked good, felt good. Messed with it a little bit more yesterday and decided to give it a shot,” Fowler said. “There was a lot of good out there today.”

Fowler will need a lot more where that came from the next three days to simply advance to the next playoff event, which admits the top 70 in the FedEx Cup point standings after this week, and to keep up with Finau, the Tour’s resident dancing fool.

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