Finau to skip title defense at Puerto Rico Open

Tony Finau chips onto the 1st green during the final round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament, Sunday, March 12, 2017, at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Tony Finau is trading a chance to defend his title in Puerto Rico to be an alternate in a World Golf Championship.

All because of one putt.

Two putts, actually.

Finau closed with a Sunday-best 64 at the Valspar Championship and finished fifth, though it likely will be a fraction short of getting into the Dell Technologies Match Play next week in Austin, Texas.

The top 64 available from the world ranking are eligible, and four players already have said they are not going – Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Valspar winner Adam Hadwin. Rickie Fowler has not decided if he is playing, though he is playing Bay Hill this week and is said to be leaning against the Match Play.

If Fowler pulls out, the final spot would go to Si Woo Kim at No. 69.

Finau moved up eight spots to No. 70.

His 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Innisbrook was a turn short from dropping. If that had gone in, a three-way tie for third would have put him at No. 65 and into the Match Play. A few groups later, Dominic Bozzelli saved par with a 5-foot putt. If he had missed, Finau would have been in a two-way tie for fourth and been at No. 69.

Instead, he waits.

”I’m going to Austin. That’s a no-brainer,” Finau said Tuesday. ”You never know. A lot of things can transpire. I’d hate to be in Puerto Rico and all of a sudden I’m in the field at the Match Play.”

Finau won his first PGA Tour title last year at the Puerto Rico Open in a playoff over Steve Marino.

Ian Poulter was in that spot last year. As the first alternate, he stayed in Orlando until late Tuesday. When it was clear he would not get in the field at Match Play, he headed for Puerto Rico and had the 54-hole lead until finishing one spot out of the playoff.

Finau will travel to Austin, and if he doesn’t get in, he’ll take the week off.

”I’m not going to stress myself trying to get to Puerto Rico and do all that,” he said. ”I would have looked forward to being in Puerto Rico.”

EARLY COMMITMENT: Lucas Glover typically – but not always – plays the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but he left no doubt this year. Glover had his management company enter him into Bay Hill the day before Palmer’s public funeral in Pennsylvania.

The timing was no accident.

”I’m a nobody,” the former U.S. Open champion said. ”I’m not moving the needles, but it did in my eyes. I thought it was a good time to let them know I was coming.”

Glover wasn’t even sure when he committed that he would be eligible at No. 110 in the FedEx Cup last year. He entered anyway, and two weeks after the funeral, he posted back-to-back top 5s to work his way up the FedEx Cup and become eligible.

”They gave me a spot last season,” Glover said. ”Mr. Palmer was always very polite to me.”

MOVING ON: Russell Knox played the opening two rounds of the Valspar Championship with Steven Bowditch. One guy was trying to get over a bad week – Knox closed with an 81 in the Mexico Championship. One guy is trying to get over a bad year – Bowditch has missed the cut 16 times in his last 17 starts.

Their outlooks were not much different.

”No matter what you’ve done the week before, each week is new,” Knox said. ”I was pretty positive I was going to beat my 81. When I birdied the first, I was quite happy. It’s such a fine line. All it takes is one swing and away you go.”

Knox opened with a 70, though he missed the cut with a 74 in the second round.

Bowditch opened with a 72, and when asked if he looked at each tournament like he was starting over, he replied, ”That’s the only way you can play.”

”It’s kind of like that feeling you get walking from 9 green to the 10th tee,” he said. ”Golf is a funny game. On any given day, you can flip it round.”

Alas, he also shot 74 and missed another cut.

STENSON’S VIEW: Henrik Stenson is skipping the Dell Match Play next week in part because of the schedule. He is playing the Shell Houston Open a week before the Masters, and he lives in Orlando and likes playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

The format of Match Play is another reason, however.

Stenson is among several players who would like to see Match Play return to single elimination, instead of 16 four-player groups of round robin over three days.

”To me, match play is do-or-die. Either I win or I lose. I kind of like that format,” he said.

Stenson won the Match Play in 2007 and he had a 10-match streak that ended against Tiger Woods in the semifinals the following year. He also lost in the first round each of his next four appearances, so he can appreciate the feeling of one-and-done.

To satisfy a corporate sponsor or even a TV audience, Stenson suggested two rounds of stroke play for qualifying and a smaller field for the match play portion.

SENIOR MOMENT: A month after turning 50, Steve Stricker makes his debut on the PGA Tour Champions.

He just won’t be there all that much.

Stricker, who missed the cut at Innisbrook, is playing in the Tucson Conquistadores Classic this week. At the moment, the only other 50-and-older events he has on his schedule are the senior majors, the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf (with Jerry Kelly) and the American Family Insurance Championship in Wisconsin that he helped to put together. He also has the Masters coming up as part of his PGA Tour schedule.

”I still feel like I’ve got a lot of game. That’s why I want to continue to play out here,” Stricker said. ”I’m waiting to see where I play well. If I play well out here a couple of times, I might stay out here.”

Either way, this probably won’t be a limited schedule that he has kept the last couple of years. Another reason for Stricker to remain active on the PGA Tour is to scout players for his Presidents Cup team the last week in September.

DIVOTS: Bubba Watson has not had a top 10 against a full field on the PGA Tour since he was runner-up in the Cadillac Championship at Doral last year. … Michael Hendry of New Zealand tied for 52nd in the Mexico Championship and earned $52,000. A week later, he won the New Zealand Open and earned $123,447. … David Zeisse of Milwaukee was the first player to enter the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Zeisse has been a caddie at Erin Hills for five seasons, and works as a caddie in Orlando (Ritz-Carlton Grand Lakes) and Bradenton (The Concession) during the winter months. Zeisse told the USGA it was his sixth attempt at local qualifying. He has yet to make it to the final 36-hole sectional qualifying. … The U.S. Women’s Amateur is going to Old Waverly in Mississippi in 2019. That’s the course where Juli Inkster won her first U.S. Women’s Open in 1999.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson did not play any event in the Florida swing leading up to the Masters.

FINAL WORD: ”If you’re going to try to compare everything to that week, then you’re going to get disappointed.” – Danny Willett on his victory last year at the Masters.