Max Homa defended his title at the Fortinet Championship in stunning fashion.
Trailing by one stroke on the final hole, Homa chipped in for birdie and watched in amazement as leader Danny Willett took three putts from less than 4 feet.
“I don’t believe what I just saw,” Golf Channel announcer Terry Gannon said.
Neither could Homa, who closed in 4-under 68 at Silverado Resort’s North Course in Napa, California, and signed for a 72-hole total of 16-under 272. It was good enough for his fifth PGA Tour title and third in the Golden State.
“I still don’t know really know what happened,” Homa said. “The last three minutes are kind of a blur.”
On a cool, gusty, rainy day, Willett built a three-stroke lead early in the final round with birdies at Nos. 1, 4 and 8 but gave a stroke back with a bogey at the ninth. He pulled ahead again with an incredible birdie at 14, where he hooked his approach from behind a tree to 15 feet and canned the putt. Homa, a 31-year-old Cal-Berkeley grad, put up a valiant effort to defend his title, making three straight birdies beginning at No. 9.
“My coach (Mark Blackburn) said, ‘Just hang around, hang around, hang around,’ ” Homa recalled.
Homa did just that, and when he chipped in for birdie at 18 it forced Willett to hole from inside 4 feet for the trophy.
“I spun it and once it hit the pin, it almost like spun straight into the ground. It was just one of those things,” Homa said. “Golf’s a weird game, some crazy stuff happens on the last hole it seems like and that was very crazy.”
It was as clutch as clutch gets, and yet it didn’t appear to be enough until Willett hit his putt for the win too firmly and it lipped out. Willett’s miss of the 5-foot comebacker was even more shocking and gift-wrapped the trophy to Homa.
“This game never ceases to amaze me,” said Golf Channel’s Tom Byrum.
Rookie Taylor Montgomery shot a final-round 64 and finished alone in third. Justin Lower closed in 73, settling for a tie for fourth but notched his best career finish. Rickie Fowler, who tied for sixth, secured just his third top-10 finish in his last 59 starts. Making his first Tour start since the 2013 Wyndham Championship, a span of 3,315 days, Paul Haley II finishes T-12.
Homa’s second shot at the par-5 18th caught the left green side bunker, leaving himself an awkward 30-yard shot from the sand.
“I kind of had to assume he was going to make it and I kind of went for the hero bunker shot and didn’t quite catch it,” Homa said.
He exploded 33 feet short of the green before holing out for the eventual winning birdie.
“I expected him to do it,” Willett said, “but then it’s still a bit of a shock when it happens.”
For the week, the 34-year-old Englishman had holed more than 96 percent of his putts from inside 10 feet, including a clutch 9-foot par putt at 17 to maintain his lead. But his first putt from 4 feet rimmed out on the left side and he faced a longer par putt to force a playoff than his previous attempt. Willett was attempting to win his first PGA Tour title since the 2016 Masters, but it wasn’t to be.
“Just a shame how I finished but that’s golf,” Willett said. “Yeah, we’ll live to fight another day.”
Homa heads to his first appearance representing the United States on its 12-man team in next week’s Presidents Cup, a biennial team match-play competition against the world’s best 12 non-European players, with an extra boost of confidence.
“I’m just happy to be in form, to represent my country, play with those boys. They’re some good golfers, so I just wanted to come in in form,” he said. “I know this is Twitter, but I’ve had a lot of people tell me if the LIV guys wouldn’t have left, I wouldn’t have made the Presidents Cup team, so I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder this week.”
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek