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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Twenty-four hours ago, Tony Finau was a national joke, viral in all the wrong ways, the victim of what could have been the dumbest self-inflicted injury since then-Arizona kicker Bill Gramatica tore his ACL celebrating a field goal. Today, Finau is at the top of the Masters leaderboard, his four-under 68 ranking only behind Jordan Spieth’s tournament-leading 66. And all Finau had to do to get to those heights was endure wracking pain and pop his own ankle back into joint. Easy, right?
Finau, one of the finest athletes on Tour and also one of the most exuberant, rang up a hole-in-one – the 12th of his career – on the seventh hole of Wednesday’s Par-3 competition. And that was where his troubles began:
“I have no idea why I just started sprinting,” Finau said after the round. “I saw [the ball] disappear. It was my first Par-3 contest, my first Masters, I made a hole-in-one, so there was a lot that went into that. I just took off. I noticed my family was behind me [and] turned around.”
Finau was racing down the fairway like Deion Sanders in golf shoes, but when he turned backward, his left ankle collapsed under him. He fell to the turf in excruciating pain – a 10 out of 10, he would say later – and faced a defining moment.
In a split second, Finau understood his lifelong dream of playing in the Masters was at risk. And so in the next split second, he made the instinctive decision that may have saved his week: He snapped his own ankle back into place right there on the fairway.
“I saw where it was, and I knew where it needed to be,” he smiled. “So I just tried [to realign the ankle]. If it didn’t work, then I would have lain there and been even more embarrassed, being pulled out on a stretcher celebrating a hole-in-one.”
He got to his feet, trying to keep his head and his world together, and finished the Par-3 round. And then came a long, long night of waiting, attempting to sleep with his leg propped and iced. Finau had a 7 a.m. ET appointment for an MRI that would render a final verdict on his chances to play in his first Masters.
“[I]f I was going to do further damage by playing, and the doctors recommended that, ‘Look, I know you want to play this week, but you’re going to do some damage and there could be some further damage where you’re going to have to take more time off,’ then … I probably would have withdrawn because of that,” he said.
The verdict came in far more favorable than that; Finau had some torn ligaments but no major damage. It was basically the equivalent of a high ankle sprain, painful but not debilitating. He taped his ankle into a club and set off on what would be a historic day.
Sporting a slight limp, Finau bogeyed the first hole, but then carded six birdies against only one more bogey. He held the lead for a few moments late Thursday, at least until Spieth began his five-birdie back-nine binge, and the shift in emotions from agony to ecstasy was nothing short of amazing.
“To be in this position I’m at now [from] 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.”
This wasn’t the first time Finau has faced this kind of adversity. Out on the course on Thursday, his father Kelepi told Yahoo Sports the story of how, as a 16-year-old, a young Tony took a golf ball to the head just days before he was scheduled to play in the Utah State Amateur Championship. To make matters worse, Finau contracted pneumonia while facing five days of golf, culminating in a 36-hole finale.
Finau didn’t just compete; he won the whole championship.
“For him, it’s mind over matter,” Kelepi Finau said. “The kid just loves this game.”
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