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.”

Fortinet Championship: McNealy still on top, but he’s got company

Maverick McNealy finished Sat Sep 18, 2021 two under round of 70 and is -14 and tied with Jim Knous who fired a 65 at the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Springs in Napa (file photo PGA Tour)

FORTINET CHAMPIONSHIP: McNealy still on top, but he’s got company

By Jeremy Harness

NAPA–To keep a lead in the Fortinet Championship, you have to shoot under par, and there’s no question about it.

Stanford alum Maverick McNealy, Friday’s leader, finished Saturday’s third round with a two-under round of 70, and predictably, others have caught up by going even lower. He is currently tied for the lead with Jim Knous, who fired a 65 to get into a tie with McNealy at 14-under overall.

He had his struggles on Friday on his back nine, and it continued in to the front nine on Saturday, as he dropped four shots en route to shooting two-over after nine.

However, he steadied himself on the back side, making birdie at the par-4 13th before closing things out with three birdies in a row, and now he’s only 18 holes away from his first PGA Tour win.

“It was a crazy day, I’m not going to lie, that front nine got going pretty quick,” McNealy said. “(I) hit it in a few funny spots. We were on the clock, I think, on, I want to say, the ninth hole, and it was just pretty hectic.

“I just started seeing the lines with the putter. I felt like I could make everything from 40 feet and in. I made the putt on 13, almost made a 40-footer on 14, left it on the edge on 15 from 30 feet and then hit great putts on 16, 17, 18. It took a lot of pressure off my chip on 18. I just thought all I want to do is stick this on the green to give my putter another chance.”

While McNealy finished second at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year and has been in the mix on several other occasions, the same cannot be said for Knous. The 31-year-old did not make a single cut in 2021 and has had only one top-10 finish in his career, when he was tied for 10th in this event two years ago.

Their starts were polar opposites as well, as Knous birdied the par-3 second before running off five straight birdies at holes five through nine. He cooled off a bit on the back nine but got things back on track with a pair of birdies on the last three holes to card a seven-under round of 65.

What makes things more impressive for Knous is that he only hit 5 of his 14 fairways and only 11 of 18 greens on Saturday. He has improved his scrambling – getting up and down to save at least a par when not hitting the green – each day and was perfect in that category in the third round.

He is currently fifth in total putting and fifth in scrambling, despite being tied for 100th in the field in driving distance and tied for 74th in greens in regulation.

“It was a great day, putter got hot there late on the back nine, on the front nine, stayed hot pretty much most of the round,” said Knous, who has one more event left on a medical extension and has generally struggled to keep his PGA Tour card. “Especially a nice putt on the last, that was a bonus. Just played solid, just stayed patient, kind of let the course come to me. When it gets firm and fast like that, just got to be patient.”

Another guy in the mix is Max Homa, a Cal alum who won the Genesis Invitational earlier this year, but is probably more known for his legendary roasts of other golf swings – pros and amateurs alike – on social media.

A native of Southern California, Homa enters the final round only two shots back after going seven-under on Saturday. He had an up-and-down front nine but got very hot on the back nine, playing the final nine holes bogey-free with six birdies and closing out his day with three in a row.

“The crowd was awesome,” Homa said. “There were people out there with — obviously mostly Phil (Mickelson) fans, but I had a few in the Cal gear and a couple guys wearing shirts, so it was awesome. Really fun coming to California for me, I have great support out here. And getting to play with Phil, too, you know you’re going to get a big buzz, so it makes everything more fun.”

Fortinet Championship: A little local flavor on top

Maverick McNealy takes the lead with a eight under par 64 lead and is on top of the leaderboard with a -12 at the Silverado Resort Fortinet Championship in Napa (file photo

FORTINET CHAMPIONSHIP: A little local flavor on top

By Jeremy Harness

This tournament has been known for guys going low throughout the weekend, and for the leaderboard to change rapidly at a moment’s notice.

Friday’s second round did not disappoint, as several players took advantage of the calm conditions at Silverado Resort & Spa, and the birdies continued to roll in without ceasing. And yes, there were a band new set of leaders atop the Fortinet Championship.

Maverick McNealy, a Stanford grad who is seeking his first professional victory and whose best finish is second in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year, shot up to the top of the leaderboard with an eight-under round of 64 on Friday.

Starting on the 10th hole, he got off to a very nice start to his round, birdieing his first two holes and then adding three more birdies on his front nine. He hit a major snag on his back nine by bogeying the first three holes there but quickly rallied with four birdies in a row and capped things off with an eagle at the par-5 ninth.

“It’s great, but there’s a lot of great players on this leaderboard and every shot’s going to matter,” McNealy said. “I just keep telling myself every putt you make now is one less you have to make later and you have to keep the pedal down. My goal tomorrow’s to get out there and give myself a birdie look on the first hole. I’m just going to have to keep doing that. Yeah, it’s great to be at the top of the leaderboard now, but it means a heck of a lot more to be at the top at the end of 72 holes.”

If you ask any good player the easiest way to shave strokes off your game, that person will most likely tell you to work on your putting. You want proof? Take a look at McNealy’s second round.

He drove the ball less accurately off the tee – he hit only six fairways Friday, compared to eight on Thursday – and didn’t hit it as far as he did in the first round, and he hit fewer greens in regulation (13 as opposed to 15) as well.

However, he made considerably more putts on Friday than was the case the day before, resulting in four more birdies and four fewer strokes. He is now second in the field in putts-per-green-in-regulation with 1.536.

While many were going low,first-round leader Chez Reavie went the opposite direction, carding a three-over round of 75. He was even-par after nine, but this time, he did not get hot. Instead, he went four-over in holes 11 through 13, including a double at the par-3 11th. He made back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th, but the damage was done.

He did not make nearly as many putts as he did in the first round. In fact, he lost more than a full stroke to the field in putting, in addition to being at a severe disadvantage off the tee and got up and down only 33 percent of the time on Friday, as opposed to 80 percent the day before.

Fortinet Championship: Clear skies, bright start to the PGA Tour season

Chez Reavie on the 18th green looks at his handy work a putt at the Silverado North Course on Sep 16, 2021 at the Fortinet Championship PGA golf tournament first round (AP News photo)

FORTINET CHAMPIONSHIP: Clear skies, bright start to the PGA Tour season

By Jeremy Harness

At this point last year, this tournament was played at a time where the skies were a dark orange color because of the fires that seemed to engulf the entire Northern California region. An eerie sight to see, to be sure.

Furthermore, there were no spectators allowed on the grounds due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, making this a thoroughly-depressing tournament to watch on television.

Fast forward 12 months, and even though there are fires burning around the region – particularly in the Lake Tahoe area – and COVID-19 is still most definitely a real thing – the atmosphere around Silverado Resort & Spa could not have been any different from 2020.

Golfers teed off Thursday morning and afternoon under clear skies, with no smell of fire smoke to speak of. And just as important, spectators were free to follow their favorite players, something they could only hope to be able to do again months earlier.

As for the Fortinet Championship itself, Chez Reavie overcame a tough start to take the lead after Thursday’s first round.

Starting on the 10th hole, he was one-over after the first six holes, but then he got rolling in a major way. He birdied eight of the final 12 holes, including three in a row to close out his round. When it was all said and done, he finished with a seven-under round of 65.

He isn’t the longest hitter out there – he was 117th in the field in driving distance Thursday while hitting 8 of 14 fairways, which ranked 23rd – but he hit 13 greens and was 2nd in putts-per-green-in-regulation, and he was the eighth-best putter overall.

“It was kind of a slow start but I told myself to stay patient, you have plenty of chances to make birdies, and I was able to do that coming in,” Reavie said. “But I was 1 over through six holes, I think. I was like, okay, stay patient, don’t become impatient. Yeah, fortunately I was able to make some birdies.”

The only real downer of this tournament is that since the Ryder Cup is next weekend, there aren’t nearly as many big names out there as a lot of fans would like. In fact, the only Ryder Cup participant who is playing this week is Jon Rahm, this year’s runner-up for the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year.

The Spaniard, who won the 2021 U.S Open, did not exactly get off to the kind of start he would have liked, particularly after also finishing second in this year’s Tour Championship, eventually losing out to Patrick Cantlay.

He was one-under for his first nine but endured a pair of tough bogeys on his second nine against one birdie, and he finished with an even-par round of 72. To be fair, Rahm had been battling a stomach ailment this week leading up to this event and has not felt anywhere close to 100 percent until Thursday.

“Not my best ball-striking day, a little tight today probably from having to be in bed for so long yesterday,” Rahm said. “So a little tight, just didn’t feel as fluid as it usually does. Even with how I felt, I played a little bit better than I thought I was going to, to be honest. Started great, started to hit some good shots, too bad I couldn’t capitalize on some of the good chances early on.

“Towards the end a lot of times my mind just wasn’t in it, I was having a hard time focusing given the fact that I haven’t had a solid meal since Tuesday morning. It is what it is. I just started, I’m feeling good now, so get a good meal right now and rest up the rest of the day. We have three more days to go. You can’t win it today, you can certainly lose it and it wasn’t my best day.”