‘No love lost’: Tensions flare as pros beef over playing order rules

Tony Finau and Alejandro Tosti talk during the Houston Open.

Things got heated between Tony Finau and Alejandro Tosti at the Houston Open on Saturday.

Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Golfers truly are irked, at times, by the simplest of disputes. And the one between Tony Finau and Alejandro Tosti at the Texas Children’s Houston Open on Saturday would qualify.

The triggering topic: Who was away?

To set the scene, Finau tied his own tournament record with a 62 on Friday, which gave him the lead at nine under. Two back was Tosti and three off the lead was Thomas Detry. That trio made up Saturday’s final threesome at Memorial Park.

The round got off to a bit of a funky start for both Finau and Tosti, as Finau bogeyed the opening hole and failed to birdie the par-5 3rd. Tosti, who was battling a shoulder injury, pulled his opening drive left and made a double bogey on the 2nd.

When the final group arrived to the fourth green, Finau and Tosti found their approaches within about a foot of each other.

According to NBC on-course reporter John Wood, both players started pacing around their birdie putts, thinking the other was away.

“It almost feels like a match-play situation right now,” Wood said.

With two balls so close to each other, there is an obvious advantage to the player who putts second — they get to see exactly how the putt breaks.

While Finau is a PGA Tour veteran, Tosti is in his rookie season, having earned his card last season through the Korn Ferry Tour. He was also involved in some controversy late last season. In August, having already secured his card for 2024, Tosti was forced to withdraw from the KFT’s Boise Open after the first round by the PGA Tour for a “disciplinary matter.” Also last season, Tosti was one of six pros penalized for taking an unauthorized shuttle in a bizarre incident at the Lecom Suncoast Classic.

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Mics couldn’t pick up much of the exchange on the fourth green, but it appeared that after the two brought in Detry to make an unbiased judgment, the group agreed Tosti was away and would putt first. Finau marked his ball and walked away.

Tosti didn’t seem pleased, as he picked his ball up and started walking the length of the putt to get another read. He was smiling, maybe even laughing.

He walked back behind his mark and crouched down to replace his ball. It had been almost two minutes since the discussion on playing order began and more than one minute and 15 seconds since the trio agreed Tosti was away.

Finau gets ready to move his mark. Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Yet Tosti just stood behind his ball, studying the line and smiling. He eventually marked again, this time with a tee, and walked toward Finau.

This is when the Golf Channel broadcast brought in PGA Tour rules official Mark Dusbabek to chime in on what NBC analyst Steve Sands called a “wild scenario.”

“There isn’t really anything as far as playing out of turn here in stroke play,” said Dusbabek, as Tosti and Finau started talking again, with Tosti pointing at the spot and putt. “If they really wanted to get technical, they could go to ShotLink and see how precise ShotLink is with it.”

At first, Dusbabek is referring to the Rules of Golf, which do not penalize players for playing out of turn in stroke play. In match play, an opponent can cancel a stroke played out of turn if they so choose. But, per rule 6.4b(1), “If two or more balls are the same distance from the hole or their relative distances are not known, the ball to be played first should be decided by agreement or by using a random method.”

According to ShotLink, they were both 38 feet, 8 inches from the hole.

So, the next option is the random method.

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“But otherwise, you are just going to have to flip a coin,” Dusbabek said. “If they bring a referee, they can flip the coin and they can just go with it.”

Sands then asked who would get to call the coin toss, to which Dusbabek playfully replied, “the home team.” Sands jokingly took that to mean Finau as the defending champ and 36-hole leader.

As they were explaining the rules situation, Tosti stepped in to show Finau where he would be standing if he putted. Finau’s mark was to the left of Tosti’s, meaning the right-handed Tosti would have Finau’s mark in between him and his own ball.

Eventually, they decided again Tosti was away, but Finau moved his mark one club head to the left.

“Now that you can tap things down,” Wood said, referring to the rule change from 2019, allowing spike marks to be fixed on the green, “Tony would much rather see a putt and worry about an indentation that he can fix.”

Finally, after 3 minutes, 23 seconds, Tosti hit the putt. It rolled with perfect speed to the hole but missed to the right. He tapped in for 4. Finau went second and got the read right, but left his try about 18 inches short. He tapped in for 4.

But the high tensions didn’t end there for the final group. Tosti made a birdie putt at the 5th and fist-pumped right in front of Finau — something that Wood reported appeared to be intentional.

“Back on five after their first confrontation on four, when he made that birdie putt, he was pretty close to Tony and he just gave it two big fist-pumps,” Wood said. “There is no love lost.”

Then, there was another debate on No. 6 over playing order.

“You can cut the tension with a knife between Finau and Tosti right now,” Wood said. “Tony just pointed at him and walked away. Tosti kind of smiled as if to say ‘You’re kidding right?’ It’s just completely icy. It is not comfortable between those two at all. It’s just tension.”

This time, Finau was seven inches closer, despite being off the green.

Both players made par on No. 6. By the 8th fairway, things had appeared to calm down, as NBC cameras cut to an image of them seemingly clearing the air.

“I would have to say the body language is pretty good there,” said analyst Curt Byrum.

Finau shot a two-over 72 and did not speak to the media after the round. Tosti shot 68 and grabbed a share of the 54-hole lead with four other golfers, including World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, but wasn’t asked about the interactions with Finau.

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