By Frank Pingue
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) – Tony Finau could barely walk when he woke up on Thursday after dislocating his ankle celebrating a hole-in-one at the Masters Par 3 contest but there was no way the gutsy American was ever going to miss his Augusta National debut and carded a four-under 68 in the feel-good story of the first round.
Finau, who popped his ankle back into place seconds after it happened, only got the go-ahead to play less than five hours before his tee time and he made the most of it, finishing two strokes behind first round leader Jordan Spieth.
“To be in this position I’m at now, when I woke up this morning, nothing short of a miracle if you ask me,” he said.
“I could barely put any pressure on it. I could barely walk.”
The 28-year-old suffered the injury during the Par 3 contest when he charged toward the green after making an ace. Moments after Finau turned and started to backpedal down the fairway he rolled his left ankle and fell to the ground.
After a mostly sleepless night during which he was focused on icing his foot and keeping it elevated, Finau had an early-morning MRI and learned he had torn a couple of ligaments.
After taking medication to dull the pain and getting taped up to stabilize the injury, Finau decided to give it a go.
“I wanted to play now and I want to play this week,” said Finau. “Waiting for another opportunity to play my first Masters, or whenever that was, whether it was next year or another time, was going to be hard for me to swallow.”
Finau said it had been a wild 24 hours.
“It was a pretty cool moment followed by probably one of my most embarrassing moments, and a scary moment at the same time,” he added.
“It was quite crazy, all the emotions that I dealt with overnight, but I was more than ecstatic to just be walking to that first tee and be playing in my first Masters.”
The world number 34 set off in the afternoon wave with limited movement in his left foot and got off to an inauspicious start with a bogey at the par-four opening hole.
But the long-hitter quickly steadied the ship with a birdie at the par-five second, which marked the start of a flawless 12-hole stretch that included five birdies.
His only other bogey came at the par-four 14th but he followed that immediately with a birdie at the 15th to pick up a shot at all four of the par-five holes.
Finau, the first golfer of Tongan and American Samoan descent to play on the PGA Tour, turned professional in 2007 at 17, turning down college scholarship offers to play basketball.
Finau played his first year on the PGA Tour in 2015 and in 31 starts that year he made 22 cuts and enjoyed five top-10 finishes. He earned his sole PGA Tour victory in 2016 at the Puerto Rico Open.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue; editing by Ken Ferris/Peter Rutherford)