The first tournament of the 2021-22 PGA Tour season is officially in the books, with Max Homa delivering the first knockout punch, winning the Fortinet Championship by one stroke over Maverick McNealy.
A 30-year-old California native, the victory was the third of Homa’s career, and second PGA Tour title in his home state. For the eighth consecutive year, the Fortinet Championship was held at the North Course at Silverado Country Club in Napa.
Homa came into the final round in a share of third place, two strokes behind McNealy, a former Stanford standout, and the largely unknown Jim Knous. Homa was steady out of the gate, parring each of his first five holes. Knowing he would need to do considerably better to put the heat on the leaders, Homa found his groove late in the front-nine, carding birdies on 6, 8, and 9 to make the turn at 3 under.
However, Homa’s momentum got halted at the par-4 10th hole, where he missed a nine-foot par putt and had to settle for bogey. Fortunately for the Cal-Berkeley product, it would be his only blemish of a stellar final round.
Three strokes behind McNealy, who was searching for an inevitable first career Tour victory, with seven holes to play, Homa pulled off one of the best shots of his life on the par-4 12th, holing out for eagle from the rough, 95 yards away. Suddenly, it was game on for Homa, who would go on to explode down the stretch.
Homa immediately followed the miracle eagle with a birdie on 13, and then asserted himself as the leader with additional birdies on 16 and 17. Despite missing a birdie putt from 16 feet on the par-5 18th hole, Homa finished his Sunday in a co-field low 7-under 65 to reach 19-under for the week. He had also shot 65 on Saturday to get himself into the penultimate Sunday pairing.
Meanwhile, McNealy was still working on a bogey-free round, carding pars on each of the first six holes on the back nine, before rolling in a 5-foot birdie putt on the par-5 16th to get himself to 18-under for the tournament.
Then, with yet another 2021 PGA Tour playoff looking probable, McNealy picked the worst time for his worst hole of the week. He botched his drive, which went just 166 yards, and then had issues around the green before three-putting for a double-bogey that all but sealed Homa’s victory. McNealy did manage to eagle the closing par-5 for a 4-under 68, but it just meant a solo-second, tying his performance at last February’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as the best result of his young career.
Chile’s Mito Pereria, making just the 10th start of his PGA Tour career, matched McNealy’s 68 to finish solo-third, three strokes back of Homa.
Leaderboard: Final Top-10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Max Homa -19 (-7)
2. Maverick McNealy -18 (-4)
3. Mito Pereira -16 (-4)
4. Marc Leishman -15 (-7)
4. Talor Gooch -15 (-4)
6. Hideki Matsuyama -13 (-6)
6. Patrick Rodgers -13 (-5)
6. John Augenstein -13 (-4)
6. C.T. Pan -13 (-3)
6. Scott Stallings -13 (-1)
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
11. Will Zalatoris -12 (-2)
11. Si Woo Kim -12 (-2)
16. Harold Varner III -11 (-1)
22. Charley Hoffman -10 (-1)
28. Chez Reavie -9 (-3)
30. Webb Simpson -8 (+2)
36. Matt Kuchar -7 (+1)
36. Phil Mickelson -7 (+3)
42. Jason Dufner -6 (+1)
How Max Homa Won The Fortinet Championship
For the second consecutive day, Homa made his presence felt with a spectacular back nine. On Saturday, he birdied seven of his last ten holes to get himself within two of the lead.
His 24 birdies for the week, 15 of which came on the weekend, tied the field lied, and he also carded two eagles, one a piece on Thursday and Sunday. He had nine bogeys for the week, and nothing worse.
For the tournament, Homa finished second in the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green, gaining 3.2 strokes on Sunday after gaining five on Saturday. He was sixth in the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee, and finished no worse than 15th in any other strokes gained category. He hit 15 of 28 fairways over the weekend, and finished 15th in the field in greens in regulation.
Max Homa’s Winning Stats
SG Off-The-Tee: 3.451 (6th)
SG Putting: 4.171 (14th)
SG Total: 14.711 (1st)
Driving Distance: 310.8 (T41)
Fairways: 32/56, 57.14% (T15)
Greens: 52/72, 72.2% (T27)
Putts: 1.577 (2nd)
Eagles: 2 (T2)
Birdies: 24 (T1)
What It Means For Homa
The third victory of Homa’s career, in the opener of his sixth full-time Tour season, came at a time where he was not playing his best golf. Homa won last February’s Genesis Invitational on his home course (Riviera Country Club), and then added three more top 10s over the next three months, but his momentum had come to a halt early in the summer.
After a T6 at The Memorial, he failed to make any noise over the final seven starts of the season, with a T25 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic being his only result of better than T40. He had struggled badly at the start of each of the past three seasons, so this victory could be a sign that his best year is incoming.
The second victory of the 2021 calendar year moved him 13 spots up the world rankings, from 44th to a career-best 31st. A relatively-weak field, with just two players ranked in the top 20, prevented him from moving up further. He began 2021 at No. 100.
Max Homa’s 2021-22 Season
Cuts Made: 1
Wins: 1 (Fortinet Championship)
Money: $1,260,000 (1st)
Points: 500 (1st)
World Rank Before/After: 44/33
PGA Tour: 3
2021 Fortinet Championship
2021 Genesis Invitational
2019 Wells Fargo Championship
Web.com Tour: 2
2016 Rust-Oleum Championship
2014 BMW Charity Pro-Am
Just one player in the field was able to match Homa’s final-round 65, that being six-time Tour winner Marc Leishman. The 37-year-old Aussie briefly tied the lead at one point on the back-nine, but was unable to get further under-par, carding disappointing pars on the par-5 16th and 18th.
Leishman’s 24 birdies for the week tied Homa for the field lead. He jumped 22 spots up the final leaderboard from T26 to T4.
Sunday’s biggest riser was reigning Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama, the highest-ranked player in the field to make the cut. Matsuyama finished birdie-birdie-eagle to shoot a 6-under 66, moving him 26 spots from T32 to T6. It was just his second top-10 since his Masters triumph.
Mito Pereira achieved PGA Tour membership by winning three times on the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour, and after a bogey-free 4-under 68 on Sunday, he now has the best finish of his Tour career, a solo-third. Pereira had a stretch in July where he followed a T5 with a T6.
Jim Knous was a surprise 54-hold co-leader after a third-round 65 that included five straight birdies on the front nine. However, his Sunday was a much different story.
After playing his first 13 holes in even-par, Knous had a disastrous triple-bogey seven on the par-4 14th. His 2-over 74 tied for the worst of anyone in the field who finished in the top 30, and he dropped from first to T11, one stroke short of capturing his second career top 10.
Knous made the cut this week for the first time in 27 months.
That other 74 came courtesy of Webb Simpson, who at No. 22 in the OWGR, was the third highest-ranked player in the field at Silverado. The seven-time Tour Champion was four strokes back, in a tie for ninth coming into the final round, but his hopes ended early after three bogeys in his first seven holes.
The 74 dropped him all the way to T30.
As poorly as Simpson played, his popular final-round playing partner was even worse: 51-year-old Phil Mickelson was in contention for the first time since his historic win at the PGA Championship in May, as he was at 10-under through three rounds, four behind Knous and McNealy.
Mickelson managed just one birdie over his last 18 holes, shooting a 3-over 74 that dropped him 27 spots from T9 to T36. Mickelson will be at next week’s Ryder Cup as a vice captain for Steve Stricker’s American team.
Homa Talks Confidence
“Yeah, I think I’ve always struggled a bit with confidence and walking around like I’m the man out here. It’s hard, there’s a lot of good, great, amazing players. It is always I felt like I’ve been lucky in my career. I grew up playing with Jason Gore and getting to see what PGA TOUR golf looks like. I know what I need to work towards, but also know that it’s not unattainable, I guess.
“When I’m out here playing with people like Rahm and Phil and DJ and Rory and JT and Berger and all the guys, I see that, yes, there’s a level of excellence that’s incredible, but it’s not — I don’t feel like I’m chasing a ghost, I guess is the best way to put it. It’s something that I can see things I can do and manage.
“So a lot for me is managing my own brain and believing in myself. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job for the last year or so, six months or so, but working towards just feeling like I walk around with my chest out a little bit more and think to myself I too can be where those guys are. That’s just kind of what I’ve had to work on the most. My golf game’s been quite good for a while, but it’s just between the ears for me.”
– Max Homa, 2021 Fortinet Champion