Since he first attended the PGA TOUR event as a toddler, winning at Riviera has always been a dream for Max Homa. At The Genesis Invitational, he could never have scripted an ending like Sunday.
A 3-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole was missed by Homa for the win. He appeared to have no chance on the first playoff hole when his tee shot settled inches from a tree. Somehow, when hard-luck Tony Finau failed to save par from a bunker on the par-3 14th, he fled to extend the playoff, and won it on the next hole.
In the FedExCup standings, Homa moved up to No. 10 as he collected 550 FedExCup points with the victory.
The emotion was too much for Homa, as much of a heartbreak as it was for Finau—his 10th runner-up finish worldwide since his lone victory at the Puerto Rico Open five years ago.
He grew up in Valencia, 30 miles away. He grew up idolising the tournament host, Tiger Woods, who presented him with the trophy. With a 3-foot putt, he almost threw it away. And with his second PGA TOUR victory, he walked off.
“I’ve been watching this tournament my whole life,” Homa said, choking back emotions before he said, “Wow. I didn’t think it would be like this. … The city of Champions — Dodgers, Lakers, me now. It’s a weird feeling.”
Not only did Homa close with a 5-under 66, but without a bogey, he played the final 26 holes.
When Sam Burns, who had led from the opening round, ran into a string of bogeys on the back nine, this looked to be a storybook finish for Homa.
It came down to Homa and Finau, who on the 18th saved par for a 64, the weekend’s low round. To tie for the lead, Homa made a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-5 17th, and on the 18th he stuffed his approach for what looked like a sure birdie.
And then he went missing.
“You’re not supposed to miss a 3-footer in front of Tiger Woods,” Homa said. “I saw him yesterday and was too scared to talk to him. But he’s forced to talk to me now.”
Even worse, his tee shot was on the 10th. Homa managed to hood a wedge and scoot it up the slope to the edge of the green, and it left him 12 feet away with a front left pin—typically Saturday’s position, changed this year due to the wind. He missed narrowly. Finau, in an excellent position, chipped to 7 feet and hit it too weakly with his shadow over the cup.
The victory allowed Homa for the first time to crack the top 50 in the world, making him eligible for next week’s World Golf Championships-Workday Championships at The Concession and bringing him back to the Masters.
Burns closed with a 69 and missed one shot in the playoffs.
Homa and Finau finished on a Riviera course at 12-under 272, which was fast, firm and bouncy throughout the week, and was never more difficult than 35 mph on Saturday, which resulted in the play being stopped.
Two shots behind and in the final group, Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 golf player, started the final round. On the opening hole, he missed an easy birdie chance and it never got much better. With careless bogeys along the back nine, Johnson failed to make a run and fell back. He shot 72 and tied for eighth place.
With two big par putts from the 10-foot range on Sunday morning, Burns steadied himself on No. 14 to avoid a third straight bogey and on the 18th hole for a 74 that gave him a two-shot lead.
Due to a four-hour wind delay so strong on a course so firm that the average score was 73.34, the highest ever for a weekend round at Riviera since the PGA TOUR began keeping such statistics in 1983, the third round was completed on Sunday morning.
The final round was much gentler, and when he went out at 31, Burns seemed to have control, saved par with a 10-foot putt on No. 10 and kept everyone at least two shots behind.
But four of the five toughest scoring holes in the final round flipped on the crucial stretch of Riviera, the 12th through the 15th holes. When his tee shot on No. 12 headed left and out-of-bounds hit a tree and landed in the rough, Burns caught a break, although he made bogey. On the 14th and 15th holes, he dropped shots and suddenly trailed for the first time since Thursday afternoon.
Needing a birdie to join the playoff on the final hole, he missed the fairway and just went over the green.
Jordan Spieth also never got anything going. Spieth was five shots behind going into the final round and could only manage a 71 to tie for 15th, coming off a pair of top-five finishes to turn his fortunes around.