Tony Finau reacts on the 18th green during the third...

Tony Finau reacts on the 18th green during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia.  Credit: Getty Images/Andrew Redington

AUGUSTA, Ga. — He is the baggage handler’s son of Tongan-Samoan descent who at age 7 for the first time in his life watched a golf tournament on television. It was the 1997 Masters. He was transfixed.

“I saw this kid who was the same color as me,” Tony Finau told Lee Benson of the Desert News. “I saw him fist-pumping, I saw him wearing the green jacket; he made the game look so cool.  

“And I’m like, man, maybe I can do that someday, maybe I can play in the Masters.”

The kid, of course, was Tiger Woods. And Sunday, Finau, after great runs in 2018 at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and the British Open at Carnoustie, will be playing with Woods and leader Francesco Molinari in the final round of the Masters.

“Oh man,” said Finau, “it would be an unbelievable thing for me, and something I’ve dreamed of for a long time.”

Or for as long as the 29-year-old from a hardscrabble life on the west side of Salt Lake City has dreamed.

Finau began his third round Saturday birdie-birdie-birdie and added another on six. On the 570-yard 8th hole he had an eagle 3, which came within inches of being a double-eagle. He shot a 30 on the front nine and an 8-under 64 for a 54-hole total of 11-under 205, the same as Woods and two back of Molinari. 

“It was a great start,” said Finau in an understatement.

A year ago, Finau made a hole-in-one at the seventh hole of the par-3 event held the day before the Masters, leaped in celebration and sprained an ankle. No jumping this time for the 6-4, 200-pound Finau. Just scoring.

"It was great standing on the first tee fully healthy this year,” he said. “I know it’s a golf course I like. I’m driving the ball nicely. Going into today, I felt calm and comfortable, and I think my score showed it.”

At the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills last summer, he was in third place late Sunday before a double-bogey on the final hole dropped him to fifth. He said the experience of being in contention will prove beneficial, perhaps in this Masters.

The forecast of a severe late-afternoon thunderstorm persuaded Masters organizers to move up Sunday’s starting times and go off both tees in threesomes, rather than twosomes. So instead of teeing off at about 2:30 p.m., Finau is set to tee off at 9:20 a.m.

“I do think that’s nice, not waiting around,” he said. “I remember when I was in the final group last year at Shinnecock, just how much time it was, like the longest day of my life, and I still hadn’t teed off. No matter what, when it’s time to tee off tomorrow there’s going to be guys on our heels, and I’m going to have to play good golf.”

Guys on his heels, or in this case Tiger Woods right alongside, the man whose charisma got Finau interested in the game in the first place.

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