HOUSTON — Tony Finau is looking to end his big year on a high, and Thursday he took it a step further by bidding on his time and posting a 5-under 65 late birdie to give him a share of the lead at the Houston Open.
Finau used a 60-foot birdie putt on the par-3 second hole to start a stretch of four birdies in five holes.
Tied for the lead with bogey-free Aaron Wiesz and Sweden’s Alex Noren, he could use a big week in Houston to nail down the world No. 50 spot as he bids for a Masters invitation.
Tyson Alexander was also at 5 and went into the left rough when the first round was suspended due to darkness. Alexander opted not to finish the round and will complete the 18th on Friday morning before starting the second round.
The top group at 66 was Sanderson Farm winner Mackenzie Hughes of Canada and Keith Mitchell, who was poised to take the lead until his second shot at the par-5 16th went into the water and led to a bogey.
Finau won back-to-back starts this summer with first-ever wins in Minnesota and Detroit. He missed the cut at Mayacoba last week and wasn’t very good at Memorial Park, except he knew the course needed it from tee to green.
“I knew the golf course — it’s a tough golf course to play,” Finau said. “You have to drive in the fairway, and your work is not done, it’s hard to hit the green. You know that you miss the green, it’s hard to get up and down, so I’m just patient with myself.
“I made a couple bombs, I think it kind of opened up.”
The big one was on No. 2, and with the wind at his back, he had no trouble adding another birdie on the par-5 third. No.
Finnau also finished with a bang, rolling in a 35-foot putt on the par-3 ninth.
His big summer has Finau ranked at No. 15 in the world, courtesy of a big run through late July and early August. There are two races left this year before the tour resumes the season in Kapalua the first week of January.
“I had a really good season this past season, but I want to go out on a good note and finish the year strong,” Finau said. “And I think that’s what I’m looking for this week.”
At the end of the year, the top 50 in the world typically earn invitations to the Masters, and Noreen tied it with himself by finishing runner-up at Dunhill Links in Scotland. He came in at number 50 at the Houston Open and knew he had his work cut out for him.
Noren tied for 42nd at Mayakoba last week on Mayakoba’s tight course cut through mangroves, looking for more accuracy than power and an excellent wedge game. Memorial Park has a lot more beef, and Noren wasn’t sure what to expect from the game.
“Last week it was like a medium and short course, a lot of fairways you have to approach. It’s long here, you have to hit the fairways and you have to hit the greens,” Noren said. “So I was a little nervous going in today. I didn’t feel good in practice, but I found something and I hit the iron a lot better. I was shooting a 65 overall.”
Wise rattled off four straight birdies on the front nine and played bogey-free. His only win so far on the PGA Tour is AT&T’s Byron Nelson in the Dallas area. Is another title in Texas in the cards?
“It was good,” said Wise. “I don’t want to win it all in one state, but I’ll take two in Texas.”
Memorial Park had a lot of bite. Masters Championship champion Scotty Scheffler went 4 through 10 holes in the morning and had a strong round with four birdies for a 70. Scheffler could win the world No. 1 ranking.
Sam Burns was not so lucky. He had eight bogeys and seven pars until he made his first birdie on the 16th and finished with a 77.