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Matt Slocum, AP
Tony Finau after putting on the 13th hole during the first round at the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 5, 2018, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Last year when he arrived here, Tony Finau was a first-timer, in awe of everything about the most prestigious golf tournament in the world on one of the world’s best golf courses.

The Salt Lake City native made quite an impression in his first go-around at the Masters and Augusta National. He received widespread attention because of a gruesome ankle injury he suffered after celebrating a hole-in-one in the Par-3 Contest. Then he made a miraculous recovery to shoot an opening-round 68 and eventually fashioned a top-10 finish, finishing strong with six straight back-nine birdies for a final-round 66.

This time, Finau comes to Augusta as a more seasoned golfer, having gone on to finish in the top 10 in both the U.S. Open and British Open and earning a spot on the United States' Ryder Cup team, where he was one of his side’s best players. He finished 12th in the FedEx standings last season and ranked No. 9 in the World Golf Rankings at the end of the year.

Finau will tee off Thursday at 7:58 a.m. MDT with 2017 champion Sergio Garcia of Spain and 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson. On Friday, the same threesome tees off at 10:54 a.m. MDT.

The only downside for Finau as he gets ready for his second Masters trip is that he’s not playing his best golf, having gotten off to a bit of an undistinguished start after last year’s successful season.

" It’s been a bit of a cold start, but as we all know it can all change in one week. "
Tony Finau

He’s coming off a so-so week where he finished in a tie for 61st place at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio with rounds of 72, 71, 70 and 73. Before that, he didn’t get into the final 16 bracket at the Dell Match Play tournament. He did make eight of nine cuts earlier in the season, but after finishing second in his initial event, the World Golf Championships last October, he’s had no top-10 finishes, his best being a tie for 13th at the Farmers Insurance Open.

“I’m not scoring as well as I’d like, but I do like where my game’s at,” he said earlier this week. “It’s not as good as last year as far as the stats go, but I carry more confidence going into this year even without the finishes. It’s been a bit of a cold start, but as we all know it can all change in one week.”

Despite his somewhat slow start, Finau is still a big deal. That’s him on the cover of the latest issue of Golf Digest with a stern look on his face and the headline “Slice Proof Swing — Turn Your Body Through and Watch it Fly.”

“Yeah we shot that at McDowell Mountain with Boyd a little over a month ago,” he said, referring to his coach Boyd Summerhays and the course in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he often practices. “It’ a cool thing for me to be on arguably the biggest golf magazine in the world. I’m always humbled to be on the cover of a magazine (he was also on the cover of Golf Digest in November of 2015).

Finau believes Augusta National fits his game, which is why he has a chance to chase the green jacket this week. Because he is one of the Tour’s longest hitters, he has an advantage off the tees and can hit the par-5s with irons.

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“I expect to compete,” said Finau, who played nine holes at Augusta before thunderstorms curtailed his play on Monday. “It’s a golf course that I like. Last year with the circumstances I had, I played as well as I could. It’s a golf course that looks good to me. That serves well when you’re looking at a major championship. The golf course fits my style of play and if I play the par-5s well I know I can compete this week and have a run come Sunday evening at a green jacket.”

A fellow Utahn who already owns a green jacket by virtue of his 2003 Masters victory, Sandy's Mike Weir, will tee off in the fourth group Thursday at 6:52 a.m. MDT with Shane Lowry and amateur Kevin O’Connell.