Tony Finau claws way into early lead in Charles Schwab Challenge

tony finau Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Finau claws way into early lead in Charles Schwab Challenge

PGA Tour

Tony Finau claws way into early lead in Charles Schwab Challenge

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Using a new putting grip, Tony Finau got a handle on Colonial Country Club.

Big-hitting Finau used the smallest club in his bag just 27 times en route to a 6-under-par 64 in Thursday’s windy first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas.

Using the claw, Finau made birdie putts of 3, 4, 7, 19, 19, 25 and 26 feet and also canned a 20-footer from off the fringe for par on the 16th to grab the early lead.

Jordan Spieth continued putting well and came home with a 65, a score matched by Roger Sloan among the players in the morning wave. A large group was at 67, including major champions Jason Dufner and Jimmy Walker.

And if Rickie Fowler is to make a 23rd consecutive cut on the PGA Tour, he’s going to have to hustle in the second round after signing for a 74.

“It’s nice when you’re making putts. The game seems to come to you,” Finau said. “Any time you can play Hogan Alley at even or better, and I was able to play it under par today, I think you’re going to be able to play a decent round.”

After a disappointing final-round 79 in last week’s PGA Championship, which dropped him to a tie for 64th, Finau decided to change things up this week.

CHARLES SCHWAB CHALLENGE: Leaderboard

“Tried the claw today and it seemed to work out,” said Finau, whose best finish at Colonial in three previous starts was a tie for 19th in 2015. “I practice putting with the claw a lot just to put my left hand in a good position. I’m left-hand dominant when I roll the stick. I used to putt cross-handed for about five years; been putting conventionally now for couple years.

“But I just wanted to switch it up. I haven’t been putting great. I needed to switch something. Decided to try the claw today and it worked out. If I feel like something is better, I’m not afraid to change no matter the results. I’ve been playing OK. I feel like it was just time. Like I said, I think it was just time to scratch that itch and see how it goes.”

Spieth looked comfortable with the putter in his hands and felt right at home at Colonial, where he won in 2016 and finished in ties for second in 2015 and 2017. Spieth, who finished in a tie for third last weekend in the PGA — his first top-10 of the year — made five birdie putts inside 15 feet. He also canned birdie putts of 30 and 45 feet and chipped in for a deuce on the par-3 13th from 75 feet.

He bogeyed the eighth when he missed the green and doubled the 18th when he found a water hazard.

“All in all, I’ve been feeling really good with the flat stick,” Spieth said. “I saved a couple pars early and that was really big for my round, because I was kind of a little off the first four holes. To play those 1 under when it felt look I should be a couple over allowed me to settle in and get some momentum.”

Spieth, who hasn’t won since the 2017 British Open, his third major triumph, said he’s been riding momentum for some time. The results didn’t always convey that, but to Spieth, he’s been moving in the right direction to right the ship.

“I know my game has been progressing,” he said. “I’ve been saying that for the last month or six weeks or so. Results just end up coming when I actually start playing better golf. Simply put, that’s just what I’ve been doing. Been a little bit better off the tee and into the greens and I’ve been a lot better on and around the greens.

“I think the course fits me well. It seems to have fit me well whether I’ve had form coming in or not. I know which spots to play to. I don’t try and do too much. I’ve putted the greens well historically, so it is nice. I love coming back here.”

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