The two players at the top of the leaderboard at The Northern Trust entering the weekend have been on very different journeys in recent years.
Jon Rahm, the 26-year-old Spaniard who shot a second-round 67 Friday to take a one-shot lead at 12-under through 36 holes, is the No. 1 ranked player in the world for a reason. He has proven himself to be a natural-born closer when he has a sniff at victory.
Rahm, whose last start was the U.S. Open he won in June at Torrey Pines for his first career major championship, leads by one shot over Tony Finau, a marvelously talented player who has yet to figure out how to close.
Rahm and Finau are followed by Olympic gold medal-winner Xander Schauffele, who shot a 9-under 62, Justin Thomas (69) and Keith Mitchell (64) at 10-under, and then Kevin Na (66), Alex Noren (64) and Harold Varner III (67).
Jordan Spieth matched Schauffele for the round of the week, firing a 62 to get to 8-under for the tournament, which has him tied with Brooks Koepka, who shot 64.
Finau’s narrative, unlike Rahm’s, centers around the growing number of tournaments in which he has had a chance to win only to fall short. His near-misses are impressive in that he has put himself in position, but his empty trophy case has become an issue.
Since Finau’s only PGA Tour victory, at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, he has played in 141 tournaments and amassed 39 top-10 finishes without a win.
“You just try and learn,’’ Finau said after shooting 7-under 64 Friday. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot being in this position before, just in general at the top of the leaderboard with 36 holes to play. My game is in a good place. Every opportunity is different.
“Even though some may feel the same, it’s a new opportunity. I’ve got to approach it as that. I’m in a good place with 36 holes to go and it’s a golf course that’s going to be receptive, so guys are going to go low. I got off to a great start, but I’m going to have to continue to make birdies if I’m going to win this golf tournament.’’
Finau, 31, is one of the most affable players on the tour. He doesn’t shy away from answering the difficult questions about his inability to win. But that hardly means he’s not desperate to change the narrative about his career.
“I’m motivated to win,’’ Finau said. “I think whatever else comes with that, and you guys [reporters] can stop talking about, whatever comes with it, it comes with it. To me, I’m more motivated to win. I’ve worked extremely hard on my body, on my mind, and I’ve done a lot of work on myself to just be better and try to be a better person and be a better golfer.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished some of those things, and hopefully getting a ‘W’ just for myself to feel accomplished would be a great thing.’’
Rahm, who has six wins in the past five years with at least one per year, has played bogey-free for 36 holes, but said his sights are higher than that.
“It’s nice to be bogey-free, but it’s not like it’s goal No. 1,’’ he said. “The goal is to win a tournament and put yourself in the best position. If I had to choose, I would rather be leading than bogey-free.’’
He said keeping a positive attitude — something he has sometimes struggled with — has been a key to his success so far.
“I’ve kept my composure,’’ he said. “Believe it or not, hit my fair share of bad shots today. Much like [Thursday], I was able to save a couple of good ones. Just accepting that I can miss shots, I guess that’s the best way to explain it, is what happens here. You get a little too greedy, miss the green, and you can have a tough up-and-down, and I’ve been able to save those so far.
“Coming into the weekend, I’m definitely going to have to clean a couple of those mistakes up.’’
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