Tony Finau found his putter in Mexico, last year.
The 33-year-old Finau carded a seven-under par 64 and took a one-stroke lead over Erik van Rooyen of South Africa and Brandon Wu of Danville and Stanford midway through the Mexico Open at Vidanta on the Vidanta Vallarta Golf Course in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
“Actually it was last year in this tournament that I started putting well again, was really sharp on the greens, and it just really helped turn my game back around,” said Finau, who finished one stroke behind champion Jon Rahm of Spain in a tie for second in that tournament. “I was able to post a second-place finish and just have a nice final round, make some putts that were very important and then it carried me into a very nice finish to last season.
“I’ve played really nicely over the last couple days this time, was able to capitalize with the putter on shots that I hit pretty close. That was probably the biggest story, hitting it nicely, but being able to capitalize with the putter is very important out here and I was able to do that over the last couple days.
“After 36 holes I’m playing nicely and find myself at the top of the leaderboard. With my experience, we’re only halfway and there’s so much golf to be played. You always want to say that you have what it takes to win a golf tournament. I think luckily for me, I’ve done that a few times over the last year.”
Finau, who has claimed three of his five PGA Tour victories in the last year, started on the back nine and rattled off five birdies before the turn, and added four more plus his only bogey coming home at No. 8 while recording a 36-hole score 13-under-par 129. He had runs of three straight birdies on both nines.
Wu, whose only pro victory came in the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Championship, made a bogey on the first hole and then amassed eight birdies, including three in a row to cap his 64 that equaled the low score of the round.
Van Rooyen, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2021 Barracuda Championship, birdied three of his last four holes and posted a 66 that included seven birdies.
Akshay Bhatia, 21, from Northridge, holed a 21-foot eagle putt at No. 18, added four birdies in a 65 and was four strokes behind in a tie for fourth with Andrew Putnam of Pepperdine, who birdied five of his first nine holes en route to a 66, Will Gordon, who made three birdies on each nine in another 66, first-round leader Austin Smotherman, who followed his course-record 63 with a 70, and Eric Cole, who had two birdies on each nine in a 68.
Cameron Champ of Sacramento shot a bogey-free 66 and is one more down in a tie for eighth with 2016 PGA champion Jimmy Walker, who had a second 67, and Ben Martin, who sank a 49-foot eagle putt on the seventh hole to highlight his 66.
Top-ranked Rahm, the defending champion, overcame a double-bogey 5 on the ninth hole when he hit his tee shot into the water, and is tied for 12th after a 68 that featured a 42-foot eagle putt on the sixth hole.
Said Rahm, who has won four times on the PGA Tour this season: “For a round that for the most part was good, there were two or three swings that were bad that cost me a little bit too much today. A couple unforced errors all week so far that have cost me more than they should.”
Rookie Raul Pereda of Mexico, playing in his first PGA Tour event, hit the shot of the day when he holed his approach from 249 yards for an eagle on the 16th hole and also is tied for 12th following a 70.
For complete results, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard