This edition of the Farmers Insurance Open was supposed to be a Saturday Showdown at scenic Torrey Pines with mighty Jon (The Spanish Armada) Rahm, staring down winless yet confident Sam Ryder.
Two weeks ago Rahm barely edged up-and-comer Davis Thompson at the American Express, a classic David versus Goliath battle. Rahm got the rookie by a shot when the dust settled.
This go-round looked like it could be Act II — this time Rahm was up against the winless six-year veteran (Ryder) and the world’s No. 3 had a truckload of momentum after his Saturday 66 that got him within two shots of Ryder, who had shared the lead or led by himself through the first 54 holes.
What neither Rahm nor Ryder saw coming was the California kid, the home state guy, the Mighty Max, as in John Maxwell Homa. Homa had five wins on his Tour resume, four in his home state and California is that home state. Homa also caught the eye of Tiger Woods, who was overly impressed with Homa’s swing at the Hero this past December.
This Saturday finale saw an impressive start for Ryder and a stumble out of the blocks for Rahm. It was a birdie-bogey exchange and just like that — Ryder’s lead went from two to a more comfortable four strokes.
Ryder’s confidence had to be growing after Rahm suffered a hard-to-imagine double at the par four fifth where his approach from a fairway bunker sailed well left, caught a cart path and became entangled in that thick Torrey rough. Three swipes later Rahm was finally on the green but walked off with a double that basically ended his hopes for three straight wins.
Ryder, on the other hand, was fine until back-to-back doubles showed up at seven and eight and the victory door was left wide open for The Mighty Max, who shot four-under over his first nine holes.
Sam did bounced back with a birdie at 10 and kept his head above water through 14 holes. But a hole ahead, Homa was surging. The entire complexion of the tournament changed in a matter of 10 minutes. Homa threw a gem of a tee shot into the tough, 230-yard 16th and eased home a left-to-right bender of a birdie putt that found the hole. Back at 15, Ryder blew a short third well over the green and would murder his hopes with a double-bogey six.
Homa had the lead and Max Homa knows how to close the deal. Another birdie at the 18th was good for a sweet 66 and a 13-under par total that was two better than the hard-charging Keegan Bradley, who threw a 66 of his own at the field and it was good for solo second at 11-under.
It was a brutal performance for the final group: Ryder: 75, Rahm: 74, Tony Finau 73.
“It’s cool,” Homa said of his sixth win, his fourth in his home state. He talked about seeing LPGA star Danielle Kang a few weeks back. “She said ‘you need to catch up to me,'” Homa said of Kang, who has six wins and a major. Homa’s tied those six, he now need a major and the U.S. Open at L.A. Country Club in June might be the ideal spot.
“A ton of patience and a lot of confidence,” Homa said as to what carried him to this win. “That board (leader-board) was stacked with great players.”
Homa also plays with joy for the game. “When I work, when I practice and I play tournaments, this is what I love. I love what today was. It was incredible. So I don’t think anything’s changed too much. The confidence is becoming more steady.”
And rightfully so.
As for Ryder, he kept his head high. “There was definitely a lot of new pressure but it was fun. I was trying to just enjoy it,” he said after his 75 dropped him into a tie for fourth at nine-under. “Like you know, it was a good experience for me and I think it’s only going to feed me.”
And Rahm? His day started poorly and didn’t get better. “I really can’t tell you,” Rahm said afterward, confused over the day’s happening. “I battled as hard as I could and the only thing that could have saved me was maybe making a couple putts and I couldn’t do that early on to get momentum going, right?” he said. “Either way, I knew it would be a tough day. I knew a couple under probably would have had a chance, but I just didn’t have it.”
It was another compelling day at Torrey.
And perhaps Rahm summed everything up the best: