Finau rockets into Masters lead with blistering front nine

Tony Finau threw his hat into the Green Jacket ring on Saturday, stealing the early third round lead at the Masters with a record-equalling outward nine to jump to the top of a leaderboard packed with major winners.

Third round play of the Masters at Augusta National Golf – Masters – Augusta National Golf Club – Augusta, Georgia, U.S. – April 13, 2019 – Tony Finau of the U.S. hits on 4th tee during third round play. REUTERS/Mike Segar

AUGUSTA, Ga.: Tony Finau threw his hat into the Green Jacket ring on Saturday, stealing the early third round lead at the Masters with a record-equalling outward nine to jump to the top of a leaderboard packed with major winners.

With Italy’s Francesco Molinari, South African Louis Oosthuizen, American Brooks Koepka and Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott – major winners all – sharing the overnight lead and Tiger Woods lurking one shot back, a massive crowd filed into Augusta National expecting an extraordinary day’s action.

The expected fireworks started early as one of the U.S. hopes Finau provided the main plot twist, racing to the top of leaderboard with a sparkling six-under 30 front nine featuring four birdies and an eagle.

Finau started the day four off the pace and made that deficit up with the birdies on the first three holes and another at the sixth.

He then took the outright lead at nine-under when he eagled the eighth after hitting his approach inside two feet.

Famous for an ugly ankle sprain he sustained during last year’s par three contest when he twisted his foot while jumping up and down celebrating a hole-in-one, Finau will now be remembered for matching the Masters record for lowest front nine.

The 29-year-old American joins five others – Johnny Miller, Greg Norman, K.J. Choi, Gary Woodland and Mickelson – who have all carded 30 over the first nine.

With no wind and a layout softened by days of rain, the early starters attacked the pins with gusto and took full advantage of the ideal scoring conditions.

Webb Simpson was seven-under through 15 holes to sit one back of Finau alongside Xander Schauffele, Scott and Koepka.

Woods, chasing his first major in 11 years and first Green Jacket since claiming his fourth in 2005, was off to a quiet even-par start through six holes to slip three off the pace.

On moving day at Augusta National, Patrick Cantlay made a monster leap, turning in an error-free eight-under 64 to jump from two-over at the start of the day to six-under with his name popping up on the leaderboard.

(Editing by Clare Fallon and Ian Chadband)