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David J. Phillip, AP
Tony Finau hits out of the bunker on the 17th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open Championship on Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Pebble Beach, Calif.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Tony Finau certainly won’t be able to fly under the radar at this week’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links, at least during the first two rounds.

The 29-year-old Salt Lake native tees off at 2:58 p.m. MDT Thursday, but look who’s surrounding him.

The group directly in front of him features two-time defending U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka and reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari, while the group behind him includes Masters champion Tiger Woods and former U.S. Open champions Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose. The crowds around those groups should be enormous.

Of course, Finau, who is paired with Ian Poulter and Jimmy Walker, shouldn’t be bothered by the limelight. Just two months ago, he played in the final threesome with Woods and Molinari at the Masters where huge crowds followed his group all day Sunday at Augusta. At last year’s U.S. Open, Finau played in the final group with Daniel Berger after firing a third-round 66.

Finau just hopes his game is back to normal after an off week in his last outing at the Memorial, where he missed the cut by six shots, only his third missed cut in 17 tournaments this season.

The week before, he just missed out on winning his second PGA Tour event at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas, where he finished second behind Kevin Na. So how does he explain going from second place one week to missing the cut by several strokes a week later?

“A four-letter word: golf,” Finau said. “It’s funny because even I was dumbfounded after the first round. It was one of those weeks. I’ve had a couple of those a year where sometimes you just have to shake your head and shrug your shoulders.”

" I’m at a point in my career where I’m chasing my second win and after second, it’ll be the third and the fourth. There’s some things in my game this year, I’ve made a lot of big strides in. "
Tony Finau

Finau said he felt great leading up to the tournament but got on the first tee and hit his tee shot “70 yards right” and kept hitting it right all day.

“You’re just going to have some weeks like that,” he said. “I play enough competitive golf where I’m going to have five or six rounds of golf a year where I’m going to look at it and shake your head and say ‘What was that?’”

Overall, Finau has been happy with his play this year, which puts him 16th on the FedEx Cup list with just under $3 million in earnings.

“It’s been a solid year, a little inconsistent for me,” he said. “I think it speaks to how great a year I had last year, how many times I was able to contend and have my name up on the leaderboard.

“There’s a lot of great things I’ve done this year,” he continued. “I’m at a point in my career where I’m chasing my second win and after second, it’ll be the third and the fourth. There’s some things in my game this year, I’ve made a lot of big strides in.”

Finau took this past week off, skipping the Canadian Open to work on his game at home in Utah and prepare for Pebble Beach, a course he enjoys playing.

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“It’s a very iconic venue,” he said. “It’s usually a golf course that plays really, really soft, so it’ll be interesting to see how the USGA sets it up. That’s going to be the big story. Do they make it firm like they did in 2010 or do they let it play really soft.”

Finau said he usually plays well at the AT&T Pro-Am in February, but he’s only played that event twice in his five years on tour, finishing in a tie for 38th this year at 5-under par and a tie for 23rd in 2017 at 6 under.

“I look forward to the event,” he said. “It’s a course I can contend at and win at. I think the visuals are great there.”

Finau has played in three previous U.S. Opens, finishing in a tie for 14th in 2015, missing the cut in 2016 and finishing fifth last year.