May 30, 2007–Making his professional debut, 16-year-old Gipper Finau of Salt Lake City defeated Dan Janton, an assistant pro from Atlanta, 5&3, in the first round of The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas at Reflection Bay Golf Club. Gipper Finau made six birdies in 15 holes, putting the match away with a birdie on the 544-yard, par-5 15th. It went really well, Gipper Finau said. I feel great. You should feel good after 5&3. My swing was on today; putts were dropping. I hit the shots I needed to hit at the time. I really feel comfortable now. I cant wait for tomorrow.
Report from: Matt Paulson, Brener/Zwikel
The long-hitting phenom routinely hits 350-plus-yard drives, which helped on not only the par-5s he birdied the three he played but throughout the round.
It always helps to be closer to the hole, Gipper Finau said. For me, coming down par-4s, Ill have 60 yards, and thats a chip shot. Hell have like 200 yards. It saves energy for me. Im hitting chip shots. Im not working my body.
Tony Finau, Gippers 17-year-old brother, rallied to win 2&1 after going 2-down through 8 holes to 48-year-old John Wilson. However, after a 15-foot par save on No. 7 to stay 2-down, then birdies of 6 feet and 30 feet on holes 9 and 10 to square the match, Tony Finau shifted the momentum his way. He then won 12 with a par and made a 20-footer for birdie on 13 to go 2-up, all the lead he would need to win.
When the momentum is not on your side in match play, its tough to win, Tony Finau said. But the momentum swung my way. I made a few putts, and I was happy about that.
Golf Digests No. 1 athlete-golfer, former Major League pitcher Rick Rhoden, won 1-up over Dave Schreyer, who owns 10 Hooters Tour titles. Spencer Levin, who finished T13th as a 20 year old at the 2004 U.S. Open, the best finish by an amateur in 33 years, lost in 21 holes to Nate Whitson. Former NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, whose plus-1.5 handicap earned him Golf Digests No. 8 ranking among athlete-golfers, won 1-up over Eli Zackheim. Alex Rodger delivered the biggest win of the day, closing out Gui Cipriani, 7&5. Conditionally exempt Nationwide-Tour player Erik Compton won 2&1 over Luke Lane. Defending champion David Ping lost 2&1 to Lee Stroever, despite leading 2-up through 10.
Last week, the Finaus announced their intention to turn professional at The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas. In July, Tony Finau, then 16, won the Utah State Amateur. Two months later, Gipper Finau, having turned 16 only a few weeks earlier, became the youngest player in Nationwide Tour history to make a cut when he made 14 birdies to fire rounds of 73-67140 (-4) at the Utah EnergySolutions Championship.
But despite the brouhaha involved with turning professional at such a young age, the Finaus seemed to find solace on the golf course.
When I turned pro, it sort of felt like a lot of pressure, being so young, Gipper Finau said. But once I got out there, everything was the same. I still had the same swing, same shots. Golf is golf.
The Finaus will play Wednesday morning, Gipper Finau against Las Vegas Scott Piercy at 8 a.m., and Tony Finau against Rhoden at 7 a.m. If they win, theyll earn $100,000 and a spot in the final to play for $2 million June 7-8 at Wynn Las Vegas. Wednesdays matches begin at 7 a.m., with the winners going off No. 1, and the consolation bracket going on No. 10.
Tuesdays losers will go to the consolation bracket Wednesday morning, where they have a second chance to make the final. If they win Wednesday morning, theyll be part of a 20-man, 18-hole playoff tomorrow afternoon for the two wild card spots in the final. Tuesdays winners need to win just one more match to earn a spot in the final and $100,000. All Wednesday rounds are at Reflection Bay.
The format of The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas includes preliminary match-play rounds at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Lake Las Vegas Reflection Bay Golf Club May 29-30, which will carve the 40 entrants down to the top 12. Those 12 will compete in a 36-hole, stroke-play playoff June 7-8 at the Tom Fazio-designed Wynn Las Vegas Golf Course, for the $2 million winners share. Players winning their first two rounds of the match play win back their $50,000 entry fee, another $50,000 and a berth into the finals. The two wild cards from the consolation bracket win back their entry fees.
The $2 million winners share tops the other major golf events played this season THE PLAYERS ($1.62 million), the World Golf Championships ($1.35 million), the British Open ($1.338 million), the Masters ($1.26 million), THE TOUR Championship and other FedEx Cup playoffs ($1.26 million), the U.S. Open ($1.225 million) and the PGA Championship ($1.224 million).