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.”