Trailing by two strokes with two holes remaining, Simpson (above) made two incoming birdies, including a 17-footer on the 72nd hole to chase down Finau, who couldn’t find one more birdie as he chased his second career PGA Tour victory.
Simpson quietly has put together an exceptional stretch of golf in the past eight months, but until Sunday it was lacking one thing – a victory.
A past U.S. Open and Players Championship winner, Simpson had four runner-up finishes since the start of last June, including a playoff loss at the RSM Classic. After pushing himself into a playoff with Finau, Simpson was flawless and picked up his sixth career PGA Tour victory.
“It was a lot today,” Simpson said “Tony played awesome. He’s going to win a lot of golf tournaments. To come down to the last couple of holes and birdie 18 twice was great.”
Simpson flipped the script during the final two holes, wiping out Finau’s two-stroke lead with a pair of textbook birdies while the leader failed to birdie either of the two closing holes.
Two strokes cost Finau coming home – a tee shot on the drivable par-4 17th that finished in a fairway bunker, leaving him an awkward long bunker shot while Simpson was putting for an eagle.
Then, after seeing Simpson force the issue on the 72nd green, Finau missed a 9-footer to win, leading to the playoff.
Finau’s only PGA Tour victory came in an opposite-field event, the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. He had lost a playoff to Xander Schauffele at the WGC-HSBC Champions last fall, but there was an undeniable sense that Finau’s breakthrough was coming.
He had five runner-up finishes the two previous seasons when he made the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup teams and he had established himself as one of the PGA Tour’s most consistent players.
He was poised to make it happen Sunday until it slipped his grasp at the end.
Finau had tapped into the emotion surrounding the death of basketball great Kobe Bryant, wearing a Bryant jersey all four days when he played the famous par-3 16th where the hole was cut 24 yards on and 8 yards from the left on Sunday in a tribute to the numbers Bryant wore in his career.
Finau said he has tried to channel Bryant’s “Mamba mentality.”
“Just simply put hard work and love for your craft,” Finau said. “I think that's what Kobe preached and what he continues to preach. … I think that’s his lasting legacy, just a lot of hard work and so much love for your craft that you get lost in your work.”
RESULTS | MONEY LIST
STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS