Finau was three strokes ahead when he landed a birdie-eagle-birdie stretch at Liberty National, the latter a 30-foot putt across the 14th green. He finished with a 6-under 65.
Smith had his own rally with two late birdies, missing a 25-foot birdie chance in 18th in settlement that would have won it. He finished with a 67.
It was as close as the Australian came to win.
On the 18th of the playoffs, Smith hit such a savage workout that he broke through the retaining wall that separates Liberty National from the edge of the Hudson River. Finau had already hammered his drive in the middle of the fairway, and the playoffs by then were effectively over.
That’s exactly what Finau needed – no drama, and more importantly, a win.
Since winning the Puerto Rico Open in spring 2016, Finau has finished second eight times, including three in the playoffs and 11 in the top three.
Now one of the friendliest golfers is leading the FedEx Cup rankings and # 8 in the Ryder Cup rankings with one week to go for all six automatic qualifiers. Even if he fails to do so, it will be difficult for US captain Steve Stricker to dismiss him from the squad.
He was the guy who did everything right except win, and now that burden has been lifted.
Finau, who had to save the bunker par with a 6-foot putt on 18th in regulation to finish 20 under 264, had just two putts for par in the playoffs.
He lifted his head to the sky and waved his lips in pure relief.
“It took me pretty much everything I had,” he said.
And it took help from Smith, who two weeks ago lost a chance to win a world golf championship with a wild practice on the 18th.
Jon Rahm also contributed.
Rahm appeared to be in control all afternoon, even as Finau started his big run. The world No.1 player had no bogey, birdieed all three par 5s and threw a wedge in 3 feet for another birdie.
He fell apart quickly, however. Rahm’s tee shot found the bunker on the 15th and he missed a 6-foot putt. On the accessible 16th par-4, he caught the whole ball with a throw that sailed 30 feet through the pin and cost him an easy birdie.
He didn’t have another look at the birdie over the last two holes, saving par from a bunker on the 17th and having to lay down from a fairway bunker on the 18th, where he finished with a bogey and a 69 to finish alone in third. .
“I haven’t been able to digest it,” Rahm said after his round. “My son made me smile so at least I’m not in a bad mood. “
There were other big winners on Monday, starting with Keith Mitchell. He was at No.101 in the FedEx Cup and only the top 70 qualify for the BMW Championship. Mitchell needed a big finish and had three straight birdies for a 69 to tie for eighth at 13 under 271.
“We thought 13 (under) was good,” Mitchell said. “When I got that putt on 18, I had to do it in my head. Fortunately, I had a great putt. “
Tom Hoge started at No.108 and tied for fourth to advance. It was his best result of the year, and he came just at the right time with points counting quadruple.
Alex Noren, Erik van Rooyen, Harold Varner III and Harry Higgs also joined the BMW Championship later this week. Van Rooyen was in contention for the first nine until he hit two shots in the water on the 11th par-3 and made a quadruple bogey 7.
Finau still had 20 cents as a target, and caddy Mark Urbanek told him around the corner to deliver his best new fullback of the year. He shot 30, and that turned out to be enough.
The final round was postponed Sunday as Hurricane Henri approached and the edges of what became a tropical storm on landing dumped more than six inches of rain on Liberty National. There was another four hour delay in the morning and spectators were kept out.
They missed quite a show and a popular winner.