By TOM LaMARRE
Defending champion Tony Finau is one of the betting favorites this week in the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club in Detroit, Wayne County, Mich., and he probably will be a favorite of many of the spectators.
That’s because the first 1,000 fans through the gates on Tuesday and Wednesday were given a Tony Finau bobblehead doll.
“That’s pretty amazing,” said Finau, who has won six times on the PGA Tour and last year won this event by five strokes over Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, Taylor Pendrith of Canada and Cameron Young.
“The other thing is that this will be the first time I’ve defended a title on a course where I’ve won a tournament before. I’m looking forward to defending.”
The 33-year-old Finau struggled to win in his first several seasons on the PGA Tour, but now he has won four times in the last two seasons.
In fact, he captured the 3M Open in Minneapolis a week before winning the Rocket Mortgage last season.
“I’m proud of the way that I fought through adversity through my career and now I’m a back-to-back champion,” Finau, who won the Mexico Open earlier this season, said after winning in Detroit. “That’s what happens.
“They say a winner is just a loser who just keeps on trying, and that’s me to a T. How many times do I lose? But one thing I won’t do is give up, and I’m only here a winner because I chose not to give up and just kept going.”
Finau, who claimed his first pro victory in the 2018 Stonebrae Classic on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour, doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
After winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic last year, he captured the Cadence Bank Houston Open to start the new season followed that up by winning and the Mexico Open at Vidanta in April.
And like his victory in Detroit, those tournaments weren’t that close as he won by four strokes in Houston and three shots in Mexico.
This week, Finau will by trying to do something he has not yet accomplished, to successfully defend a title.
“Mentally, I’ve changed a little bit,” said Finau, who got his career started by winning the 2006 Utah State Amateur. “I’ve made putts when the counted. You have to make putts to win golf tournaments, and I made some really crucial putts at the 3M Open last year that led me into the nice stretch that I’ve been on. It all started at the 3M Open.
“I just kept it going the next week in Detroit.”
Finau will try keep it going this week in a field that includes 2011 PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who won the Travelers Championship last week, ninth-ranked Max Homa of Valencia and Cal, Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal, Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Sungjae Im of South Korea, Brian Harman and Tom Kim of South Korea.
Finau may or may not win, but he has shown in recent years that he is up to the challenge.
1. Justin Thomas, United States – JT might finally be putting things back together after finishing 64-62-67 last week to tie for ninth in the Travelers. It was his best finish since he tied for 10th in the Valspar and finished solo fourth Phoenix early this season. Thomas, who has slipped to No. 15 in the world, is making his first appearance in the Rocket Mortgage this week.
2. Rickie Fowler, United States – Another player bouncing back from a slump, Fowler tied for 13th in the Travelers after a tie for fifth in the U.S. Open and has eight top-20 finishes in his last nine starts. Now he is searching for his sixth PGA Tou victory and 10th as a pro, the last coming in Phoenix in 2016. His best finish in the Rocket Mortgage was a tie for 12th three years ago.
3. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – Also seems to have his game back in order after a solo fifth in the Players, a tie for 16th in the Masters, another tie for 16th in the Memorial and a tie for 13th last week in the Travelers. Matsuyama, who has 17 pro victories in his career, is playing in the Rocket Mortgage for the fourth time and his best result was a tie for 13th four seasons ago.
4. Tony Finau, United States – Although the 14th-ranked Finau hasn’t been playing particularly well lately, the defending Rocket Mortgage champion has won twice since then and has six PGA Tour victories in his career. He won in Houston and in Mexico earlier this season and has eight other top-25 finishes. Last season, he blew away the Rocket Mortgage field by five strokes.
5. Sungjae Im, South Korea – Even though he hasn’t added to his total of six professional victories, including two on the PGA Tour, Im has been in the picture all season with 11 finishes in the top-10, the best a tie for fourth in the Farmers, a tie for sixth in the Players and a tie for sixth in Phoenix. His best finish in three Rocket Mortgage starts was a tie for eighth in 2021.
6. Keegan Bradley, United States – If he can come back down to earth after winning the Travelers on home ground in New England last week, Bradley might be a factor in the Rocket Mortgage. He also won the Zozo Championship and has 11 results in the top 25 this season. His best result in three appearances in the Rocket Mortgage was a tie for 14th two seasons ago.
7. Max Homa, United States – The ninth-ranked Homa is another player who hasn’t been at his best recently with two straight missed cuts, but he won the Fortinet and the Farmers give him six PGA Tour victories and 11 finishes in the top 25 this season. His best result in the Rocket Mortgage Classic was a tie for 24th last season, which followed a tie for 25th the year before.
8. Tom Kim, South Korea – The 20-year-old wonderboy has nine finishes in the top 25 this season, including his second PGA Tour victory and 11th around the world in the Shriners, after he also captured the Wyndham last season. Kim also is coming off a tie for eighth in the U.S. Open and a tie for 16th in the Masters. He is making his debut in the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
9. Brian Harman, United States – The left-handed Harman is coming off a tie for second in the Travelers, where he posted scores of 66-66-64-64 and lost to Keegan Bradley by three strokes. It was his seventh top-10 result of the season and third runner-up finish, as he also was second at Mayakoba and in the RSM Classic. He has missed the cut in his two Rocket Mortgage starts.
10. Collin Morikawa, United States – This season hasn’t been very good for the two-time major champion, at least in part because of a back injury. Morikawa showed signs of snapping out of it by tying for 14th in the U.S. Open, but missed the cut in the Travelers last week. He still has seven top 10s this season, including a tie for 10th in the Masters. Makes Rocket Mortgage debut.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Chez Reavie, United States; Cam Davis, Australia; Sepp Straka, Austria; Tom Hoge, United States; Byeong Hun An, South Korea; Harris English, United States; Austin Eckroat, United States; Adam Hadwin, Canada; Chris Kirk, United States; Ryan Palmer, United States; Taylor Pendrith, Canada.
1. Aaron Rai, England – Six-time winner as a pro has yet to break through on PGA Tour. T-3 in RBC Canadian Open, T-7 in Houston, T-12 in Charles Schwab, T-19 in the Players this season.
2. Stephan Jaeger, Germany – Won six times on Korn Ferry Tour, but hasn’t won on PGA Tour. T-9 in Houston, T-11 in Byron Nelson, T14 in Honda this year. Fifth in 2022 Rocket Mortgage.
3. Justin Suh, United States – Winner of 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Championship also is seeking his first PGA Tour victory after T-5 in Houston, T-6 in Players, T-27 in U.S. Open this season.
4. Garrick Higgo, South Africa – Seven-time pro winner, including the 2021 Palmetto Championship, Higgo was third at Sanderson Farms, T-11 at AmEx, T-20 at Pebble this season.
5. Beau Hossler, United States – Big amateur winner hasn’t yet won on the PGA Tour, losing to Ian Poulter in a playoff in 2018 in Houston. Solo third in Zurich, T-10 in Mexico this season.
For first-round tee times and later the results, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard