Max Homa took the Fortinet Championship Sunday for the second straight year but not the way he or anyone else would have envisioned it.
Homa trailed 2016 Masters champ Danny Willett by a shot standing on the 72nd tee. Homa was 15-under par, Willett was 16. Homa found the fairway, Willett was wide right in the rough — but no worries, the par five was playing as the easiest hole on the course all week at Silverado Resort. The long rainy, chilly round came down to a contest between the two and it looked like Willett had it in the bag.
Willett’s second was good, leaving him just 66 yards to the hole. Homa’s second left him in a bunker well short of the green — about 20 yards. It was then that Willett stuck his third inside four feet — three feet, seven-inches to be exact. Homa’s third didn’t make the green, he was short, leaving himself a 32-foot pitch for birdie, which he desperately needed with Willett in close for what looked like a winning birdie putt.
It was then that Homa did the improbable — he pitched it in for birdie, a 68 and tied Willett (for the moment) at 16-under.
Willett had been strong all afternoon, he hit 17 of 18 green and was an amazing 95 percent on converting putts inside 10 feet. He had just made a clutch nine-footer for par at 17.
Willett cracked a big smile after Homa holed his pitch but that smile soon disappeared. Willett pulled his birdie attempt badly, it didn’t even hit the hole and he left himself four-feet, eight-inches for par to send things into a playoff. What happened next stunned everyone — Willett’s par attempt lipped out and Homa was the repeat champion.
“The last three minutes were a blur,” Homa said after the improbable ending handed him his fourth career victory and will push him inside the world’s top 20. Homa’s key to victory — “Patience,” he said without hesitation. “My coach just said — ‘hang around, hang around, hang around.'”
And that’s exactly what he did after it looked like he’d come up a shot short of the win.
Homa now moves on to play in his first Presidents Cup matches this coming week at Quail Hollow in Charlotte. “I played with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder this week,” Homa said. “A lot of people were saying if the LIV guys hadn’t left, I wouldn’t have been on the team.”
As for Willett, he was stoic about his meltdown: “Just a shame how I finished, but that’s golf, we’re going to do it again another day. Yeah, a bit disappointing finish to the round, but you’re trying to hole it. Hit it a little bit too firm.”
Taylor Montgomery, who regained his card through the Korn Ferry Tour, finished with a 64 and took solo third, his best PGA Tour finish.
Overnight leader Justin Lower’s closing 73 left him tied for fourth with Ben An.
Stricker Outlasts Karlsson At Sanford International:
Steve Stricker, the force on the course for the over-50 set, prevailed again on Sunday at the Sanford International.
Stricker had to go overtime — he defeated Robert Karlsson with a birdie on the first hole of a playoff as both finished at 14-under par on the Minnehaha Country Club in Sioux Falls.
Stricker won the Ally Championship two weeks ago and wasn’t in the field last week. Stricker closed with a six-under par 64 and won for the third time on the Champions Tour this season.
“You’ve just got to stay aggressive at times out here and I was doing that. I did a good job of that today and hit a lot of good putts,” Stricker said. “That one on the playoff, it was a special putt, that was really cool to do.”
Stricker is the fifth player with at least three victories this year joining Steven Alker, Padraig Harrington, Jerry Kelly and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Stricker moved to No. 3 in the Charles Schwab Cup standings with three tournaments left before the postseason starts.