2021 Northern Trust leaderboard, grades: Tony Finau ends victory drought in playoff over Cameron Smith

There are a number of ways Tony Finau’s run of 143 consecutive tournaments since his last victory could have ended, but few would have been as meaningful as how he won The Northern Trust on Monday at Liberty National Golf Club. Finau took down one of the best PGA Tour fields in the last decade and held off the hottest player in the world — who also happens to be the No. 1 player in the world — in the process. And he did it all in a playoff.Finau bookended his win at the Puerto Rico Open, which was being played opposite a WGC event, 1,975 days ago with a one-hole playoff win over Cameron Smith after firing a 65 in a postponed final round. Both Finau and Smith ended regulation at 20 under while Jon Rahm, currently No. 1 in the world and on one of the great heaters of his career, faded to 18 under to lose a tournament he led for four and a half straight days.Finau’s closing kick was magnificent. He shot a 30 on the back nine that included a 3-foot eagle and three other birdies. It almost got away from him on the final hole when his approach shot came up short in a bunker, but he put a 6-footer right in the heart and got into a playoff with Smith that ended about 5 seconds after it began when Smith blasted his tee shot out of bounds. Finau made a straightforward par, and five years’ worth of murmuring about his ability to shut down events was silenced.It was not unwarranted, either. Finau had finished in the top 10 at PGA Tour events 39 times since his win at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. According to a Data Golf tool that measures how a player performs under pressure in final rounds, Finau would have been expected to win 3.8 times based on how he entered final rounds since the start of 2015. His Sunday performances dropped that expected value down to 2.6. That’s not great, especially since he won just one of them.That’s all over now, though, and there are multiple nails in the coffin. The first is holding off Rahm. The second is doing it with a monster close. The third is shutting it down in an event that had one of the strongest fields of the last decade.”All I know is I’m a lot different player than I was then,” said Finau of going over five years between victories. “I’m a lot better player and I feel like it’s been a long time coming, but I also feel like you have to earn everything out here. Nothing’s given to you and I was able to earn this win, and you know, hopefully the future continues to be bright. I’m playing some great golf. We’ve got two big tournaments in front of me, so I’m going to enjoy this one. I’m playing great golf. I feel like I can go on a run, so why not continue right on to next week.”The First Cut crew breaks down and reacts to Tony Finau’s victory at The Northern Trust. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.It’s a very Tony Finau thing to already be looking ahead to next week’s BMW Championship. He’s not one for reminiscing, emotion or nostalgia. Given how many close calls he’s had over the years though — 13 second- and third-place finishes since the start of 2016 — hopefully he’ll take a quiet moment to reflect on this one. Winning isn’t everything on the PGA Tour, but it’s meaningful because of how rare it is and how difficult it is to accomplish. Tony Finau knows that better than anyone. Grade: A+Here are the rest of our grades for the 2021 Northern Trust.Cameron Smith (2nd): Smith has been playing some terrific golf of late, but one bad swing to start the playoff upended him. Still, this week is among the best performances of Smith’s career, and the 60 he shot on Saturday, incredibly, could have been even better. He lost a stroke and a half with his putter over the last 13 holes in that round and probably turned a 58 or 59 into a 60. Here’s a fun stat related to Smith: Coming into this week, he’d made just over $15 million over the course of his career. He’s in the top five in the new FedEx Cup standings and has set himself up to potentially make $15 million in one day at the Tour Championship two weeks from now. Grade: AJon Rahm (3rd): How hard is winning on the PGA Tour? Rahm led a PGA Tour event for four and a half straight days and did not win the tournament. Rahm was magnificent throughout and led the field from tee to green for all four days. He hit some pretty loose shots over the last five holes, but it was really his putter that let him down on the final day. He made 15 of his 18 putts from 3 feet or less and did not make a single putt from longer than 5 feet. It’s incredibly difficult to score that way.”I did what I had to do tee to green, and it could have been a lot better than what it was,” said Rahm. “I felt like I could have had a bigger lead, and that wasn’t the case.” Grade: A-Jordan Spieth (73rd): To the surprise of nobody, Spieth’s week was a roller coaster. He opened with a normal-enough 72 before shooting a 62 in Round 2 last Friday in a round where he made eagles on consecutive holes. He followed that with a normal-enough 72 again before shooting 79 on Monday in the last round with back-to-back triples. If you follow Spieth, none of this sounds out of the ordinary, but he could not cash it for a decent finish. He was straight-up bad from tee to green, which has not been the case for most of 2021. I expect a bounce next week at the BMW Championship, but it’s something to keep an eye on as the Ryder Cup approaches. Grade: C-

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