Sophomores Finau and Schauffele shine at 2019 Masters

The elation of Tiger Woods winning his fifth green jacket at the 2019 Masters has begun to subside. Well maybe not, and maybe it never will, but the roars have at least died down considerably since this past Sunday. However, the 15-time major winning veteran wasn’t the only player to showcase his talents at Augusta National this year.

While Woods was busy racking up the final round highlights six players were trying to make the most of just their second year playing at one of the most iconic courses in all of golf. Each of the Masters sophomores surprisingly made the cut in a place where experience is greatly favored. The only to finish over par was 2018 RBC Heritage winner Satoshi Kodaira (+6).

Haotong Li (-1)  and the talk of the tour the last two weeks, Canada’s Corey Conners (E) each managed a respectable top-50 finish. One year removed from missing the cut at his first attempt at a green jacket Patton Kizzire (-6) cracked the top-20 in a tie for 18th. But above the others stood two second-year, rising contenders.

Finau finds a rhythm at Augusta

In his maiden Masters voyage in 2018, Tony Finau had a memorable rookie outing for more ways than one. Every golf fan, die-hard or casual, remembers the images of the then 28-year old making a hole in one at the Wednesday Par-3 Contest. Then celebrating, dislocating his ankle, and popping it back into place by himself.

Remarkably, Finau shot 6-under par on his final round alone for the third lowest score of the day and a share of 10th place. Throughout his 2018 campaign on the PGA Tour he climbed to sixth in FedEx Cup rankings, finished top-10 in three of the four majors (including solo fifth at the U.S. Open) and made the most of his first of what is sure to be many more Ryder Cup appearances.

It seemed a logical prediction that with a year of momentum behind him, and two good ankles, Finau would be a force to be reckoned with around Augusta in 2019. Over his opening two rounds the Salt Lake City native stayed stead with below par rounds of 71 (-1) and 70 (-2). It wasn’t until Saturday when then Tongan-Samoan sensation truly broke out with an 8-under third round of 64.

Following his near record-breaking Saturday, Finau found himself in the final pairing Sunday with none other than Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari. Scoring was difficult to come by early on in their closing 18 holes. Making only one birdie before dumping his tee shot into the water on the par-3 12th, the closing six holes were a completely different story.

The 14th ranked player in the Official World Golf Rankings closed with three birdies including back to back at 15 and 16. Finau’s ability to finish and bounce back after difficult holes helped propel him into a four-way finish for fifth place. Two years, two top-10 finishes and continued improvement each put Finau into the early discussion for a future green jacket sooner rather than later.

Schauffele starts slow but surges Sunday

In 2017 a San Diego State University standout by the name of Xander Schauffele won twice in his first year on the PGA Tour. Perhaps still the biggest win of his career to date came in September 2017 when he bested Justin Thomas by one stroke in the finale of the FedEx Cup playoffs at the Tour Championship. While Thomas still captured the FedEx Cup Championship it came as no surprise when Schauffele was announced as the 2017 PGA Rookie of the Year.

The 2018 Masters wasn’t a breakout first trip to Augusta by any means but Xander was still able to make the cut and finish tied for 50th. Compared to his rookie season 2018 was slow by Schauffele standards. However, in the 2018-2019 wraparound season, the reigning ninth-ranked golfer in the World has already secured two victories. His first of which came at the HSBC Champions event in a playoff with none other than fellow Masters sophomore standout Tony Finau.

The 2019 trek to Augusta National started rocky for the already four-time Tour winner. Schauffele turned in a first round 1-over par 73 but bounced back quickly on Friday shooting the low round of the day with a 7-under 65. A steady 2-under 70 on Saturday put him right back in the mix just five shots off the lead heading into Sunday’s final round.

Despite being 1-over through seven holes, a birdie at the par-5 8th began a surge of five birdies before finishing 12-under par for the tournament where the 25-year old, in just his second Masters, took a share of the clubhouse lead. As everyone knows that lead was ultimately overtaken by Tiger Woods but would still leave Schauffele finished in a three-way tie for second with major champions Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka (not a bad way to improve after an 8-over finish at his first Masters).

With both men still improving and bettering their game each and every tournament, both Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele still have plenty of Masters, and majors, moments ahead of them. Finau will be taking a brief break this week while Schauffele will tee it right back up at the RBC Heritage from Harbour Town Golf Links.

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