Fortinet Championship: Homa surges ahead for win as McNealy falters late

Max Homa holds the Fortinet Championship Trophy at the 18th hole at Silverado Springs in Napa after winning Fortinet Championship PGA Tournament on Sun Sep 19, 2021 (AP News photo)

FORTINET CHAMPIONSHIP: Homa surges ahead for win as McNealy falters late

By Jeremy Harness

NAPA, Calif. – The guy known for his hilarious golf-swing roasts did some more roasting with his own game on Sunday.

Starting his Sunday two shots back and playing two groups ahead of the leaders, Cal alum Max Homa was steady as can be for the first five holes and then caught fire, making birdie on three of the next four holes.

He then bogeyed the 10th but came right back two holes later by holing out from the rough for an eagle-2 at the par-4 12th. He quickly followed that up by draining a 21-foot birdie putt at the par-4 13th.

He then two-putted for birdie at the par-5 16th and then rolled in a 19-foot breaking birdie putt at the par-4 17th to take the lead, and when McNealy suffered a double bogey at the 17th moments later, he suddenly had a three-stroke lead that he would not relinquish.

As a result, the 30-year-old collected his third-career win on the PGA Tour by taking the Fortinet Championship by a single stroke.

“I really learned it’s a marathon,” Homa said. “Those Sundays are long, a lot of things happen. I played with Scott Stallings, he played awesome especially right off the jump and he kind of got going ahead of me and I just kept telling myself to just keep playing golf and, you know, just let the birdies come. Don’t force anything, don’t try to beat anybody, just go play the golf course.

“I’ve been playing the back nine really well all week so I learned that a lot from Riviera, just plugging along, picking up maybe a shot here and there and kind of — I had a really good feeling. This golf course sets up where 16, 17, 18 is where the crux of the movement comes, so I was really pleased to par 14, 15 and go into 16 tied. I’ve been playing the par 5s well. I know Maverick had been as well, but I wanted to at least not have to do anything nuts on the last three, but I needed to be close enough on those three to have the opportunity to go and something happen and fortunately was tied going into those and could just play kind of play normal solid golf.

McNealy, who was looking for his first PGA Tour win, played the first 16 holes like a man poised to get that W, going four-under and bogey-free during that stretch.

Then came that short, but tricky, par-4 17th that ultimately decided the tournament.

Homa had birdied that hole a few minutes prior, and McNealy, who had hit his wedges and short irons very well all week, went with a long iron off the tee rather than a driver, to put himself in position for a comfortable second shot.

However, he blew his tee shot way right and hit a tree, and although he got a nice deflection off a tree, he ended up 181 yards from the hole. He then hit his second shot past the green and had major troubles around the green.

“I was just trying to hit the same shot I hit yesterday, which is a low 2-iron,” McNealy said. “I caught it off the heel and it caught the last branch of the tree and dropped straight back. Standing there from 195 yards with a 6-iron and I hit it exactly — it was a great second shot — exactly where I wanted to play to and misjudged the lie. That’s something that I want to work on going forward.”.

It took two more shots to get on the green and then two-putted for a disastrous double.

However, he had one last push at the par-5 18th, as he hit a nice drive followed that up with a shot that hit the green. When that shot did not fine the bottom of the cup, Homa was ensured the victory, but he nonetheless drained the ensuing 32-footer for eagle.

“That eagle putt was gravy, but I was really proud of that drive on 18 because hitting that fairway, it sets you up for birdie,” McNealy said. “And this is the first event of a new season. There’s a big difference between T-2 and solo second, that’s a lot of FedEx points, it’s world ranking points, it’s every shot matters, especially when you’re up at the top of the leaderboard. I was really proud of how I executed.”

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