It is normally cliched, and barely gets noticed when it’s uttered anymore, but at The Genesis Invitational, the winner truly was the man who wanted it most.
Rebounding valiantly from near disaster, L.A. area native, Max Homa dug deep and rebounded from near disaster to win this year’s event, knocking out perennial bridesmaid Tony Finau on the second playoff hole at Riviera Country Club, the course Homa says made him fall in love with golf.
In a tournament that he first attended at the age of two, the now 30-year-old Homa was nearly flawless on the final day, shooting a bogey-free 5-under 66 in a round that turned into a late duel between two players looking for their second career victory.
Homa, who is something of a social media wonder, finished the job in front of tournament host Tiger Woods, a legend he grew up admiring. Ironically, Homa jumped Tiger in the world rankings, dropping the 15-time major champion into 50th place.
Even though he was able to go bogey-free, Homa had to feel like he gave a stroke back to the field on the 72nd hole. Attempting to win his favorite event just a year after an 18th-hole bogey meant a T5, Homa stepped on the final hole tee box needing a par to tie, or a birdie to win.
Unencumbered by the immense pressure of the moment, he striped his drive down the fairway before hitting the shot of his life: a pristine approach that landed just three feet from the hole.
That is, according to Homa, when the nerves hit him. That gimmie putt lipped out, and he was forced to stay composed in a playoff against a highly-motivated opponent. Finau’s last win was the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, and in that time since, he has 10 runner-up finishes, and 31 top-10s without a victory.
Finau puts on a strong face about it, but there is little doubt that falling just short so many times is eating him up.
For a moment, it looked like Finau had this win wrapped up. On the first playoff hole – the par-4 10th – Homa’s drive nestled up against a tree. Had he been left-handed, the tournament would have essentially ended there, but Homa was able to curve a miraculous recovery shot onto the green. Both players parred, with Finau missing a 7-foot birdie attempt.
On the second playoff hole, the par-3 14th, Homa parred again, hitting his tee shot to within 12 feet. That was one better than Finau, who hit his tee shot in a bunker and was unable to convert his par putt. Homa could finally breathe: he had his win at the tournament he grew up dreaming of winning, at the course that means the most to him.
Homa’s last win came at the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship. He came into the week feeling good after a T7 at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but has mostly struggled since the Tour resumed play after the three-month COVID-19 layoff. In the ten 2020 season starts he made following the layoff, Homa had a T3, and nothing else better than a T41, and tallied six missed cuts. Since missing the cut at November’s Masters, though, he posted four top-25s in a five-event span coming into Riviera.
As Homa’s stock and world ranking continue to soar (he moved from 91st to 38th with the win), Finau’s frustrations mount further and further, despite a field-low 7-under 66 in the final round. This was the third consecutive tournament worldwide where the 31-year-old from Utah finished runner-up. A week ago, it was in Saudi Arabia at the hands of World No. 1 Dustin Johnson. In his nine 2021-season starts, Finau has six finishes inside the top 11. He also finished runner-up in the 2018 version of the Genesis.
Both Homa and Finau began the day chasing Sam Burns, who was attempting to go wire-to-wire for his first career PGA Tour win. All three were among those who had to finish their third round on Sunday, as brutal winds caused a four-hour delay on Saturday.
When the round 3 dust settled, Burns, a 24-year-old LSU product, was at 9-under for the week, two strokes better than Homa, Dustin Johnson, and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick.
While Johnson was unable to get into a rhythm, which was a shock as the reigning Masters champion and Tour Player of the Year had been enjoying the best golf of his life as of late, Burns continued to hold out front, as he had done since his round 1 7-under 64. Burns played his first 11 holes in 4-under, but hit a wall with bogeys on 12, 14, and 15, and his 2-under 69 meant a solo-third place finish.
Pos-Player-Score (Final Rd)
1. Max Homa -12 (-5)
2. Tony Finau -12 (-6)
3. Sam Burns -11 (-2)
4. Cameron Smith -9 (-4)
5. Jon Rahm -7 (-5)
5. Viktor Hovland -7 (-4)
5. Matthew Fitzpatrick -7 (E)
8. Francesco Molinari -6 (-4)
8. Wyndham Clark -6 (-2)
8. Matt Jones -6 (-1)
8. Dustin Johnson -6 (+1)
15. Xander Schauffele, Jordan Speith, Patrick Cantlay -4
20. Rickie Fowler, Scottie Scheffler -3
32. Marc Leishman, Jason Kokrak -1
38. Kevin Na, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott E
43. Joaquin Niemann, Collin Morikawa +1
64. Matthew Wolff +6
How Max Homa Won The Genesis Invitational
Homa played not just round 4, but the entire final day bogey-free, as he had to play the final five holes of his third round in Sunday’s early morning. He opened his week with a 5-under 66, and then after 70s in the two middle rounds, he found himself in the second-to-last Sunday pairing. In both his second and third rounds, Homa carded four bogeys, but one eagle.
His 17 birdies at the traditionally difficult course tied for seventh best in the field, and helped offset the nine bogeys he had throughout the week. He gained 3.2 strokes to the field tee-to-green in round 4, which got him to third in the field for the week in that statistic. He did not lead in anything except for strokes gained: total, although he was second in strokes gained: off-the-tee. That was a considerable improvement as he is in the negative for the season off the tees.
Driving: 290.1 yards (58th)
Fairways: 31/56, 55.4% (8th)
Greens: 46/72, 63.5% (4th)
Putts: 1.596 (3rd)
Scoring: 2 Eagles, 17 Birdies, 46 Pars, 9 Bogeys
What It Means For Homa
One of Homa’s rewards for winning at Riviera is more golf. By reaching 10th in the current FedExCup Standings, Homa qualified for next week’s WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession. He also earned his Tour card for the next three seasons, and puts himself in excellent position to reach the Tour Championship for the first time.
In five career major starts, Homa has a T64 and four missed cuts, but will get several more chances from this win alone. His victor’s check was for $1.6 million, the single biggest payday of his career.
HOMA’S 2021 PGA TOUR SEASON
Cuts Made: 8
Wins: 1 (Genesis Invitational)
Additional Top 10s: 1
Money: $2,254,609 (9th)
Points: 803 (10th)
World Rank Before/After: 91st/38th
Although he ended up with yet ANOTHER runner-up finish, Tony Finau was Sunday’s best golfer with his 64 that was two better than Homa, or anyone else in the field.
The native Tongan should be encouraged with that performance, and after the round he expressed pleasure, saying that his high finishes do not normally come with a low Sunday. He did everything in his power to win prior to the playoff, but twice missed clutch putts outside of regulation, one that would have won, and another that would have extended the playoff to a third hole.
Finau moved to No. 13 in the world rankings and will be in the field for next week’s WGC event.
Tying Homa’s final-round 66 was Spanish star Jon Rahm, who rebounded from an over-par third round to net a T5 and strengthen his hold on the world No. 2 position. Rahm began his round 4 in 18th place and exploded out of the gates with four birdies in his first six holes. It was his fifth finish of T7 or better in his last six Tour starts.
Needing one more shot than Rahm in the final round, but finishing one position higher was Australia’s Cameron Smith, who was in the leadership mix for much of Sunday. Smith was 5 under through 11 before two late bogeys ended the chances of a third career victory. In a small slump since finishing runner-up at The Masters in November, Smith hit 10 more fairways in round 4 (16) than he had in round 3.
Just two strokes back of Burns coming into the final round, the belief was that Dustin Johnson would be the man to beat. The World No. 1 by a considerable amount, Johnson won two weeks ago in Saudi Arabia, and since Tour play resumed last June after the COVID layoff, he has five wins worldwide, including the Tour Championship and The Masters, in addition three runner ups.
The 2017 Genesis Champion by five shots was surprisingly unable to find much in the way of consistency on Sunday, carding five bogeys over his last 10 holes for a 1-over 72. He dropped from T2 into a share of 8th place. After gaining nine strokes to the field tee-to-green in the first three rounds, Johnson lost 1.6 strokes in round 4.
FedExCup points leader Patrick Cantlay appeared on the verge of a third straight top-3 finish after sitting in fifth coming into the final day, but troubles with his putter meant a 1-over 72 for the world No. 8.
An over-par weekend was surprising for the 28-year-old, as he had posted a round of 62 or better in each of his past two starts.
Tyler McCumber lost a fingernail before the tournament, but shook off surgery and sat in second place at The Genesis through 36 holes. However, a disastrous weekend that saw him follow a round 3 77 with a round 4 74, the latter of which dropped him a field-high 30 spots down the final leaderboard, meant an extremely disappointing T52 result for the week.
Only Scott Piercy (75) had a worse round 4 score.
“It didn’t hit me under just now. I’ve been watching this tournament my whole life, it’s why I fell in love with golf… wow, I didn’t think it would be like this [in tears]. Tiger, another reason I’m into golf… I had good feelings this week, been playing great in the city of Champions: Dodgers, Lakers, and me also. It’s a weird feeling.”
– Max Homa, Winner of The Genesis Invitational.