Mother Nature unleashed a powerful punch on Sunday, throwing a combination of rain, wind and clouds at the players in the final round of the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa.
It rained hard at times and the wind kicked up, blowing in different directions on an overcast day. It made for very difficult scoring conditions on the par-72, 7,123-yard North Course, a challenging layout known for its overall length, narrow fairways, long rough and greens that have a lot of slope and speed. Players were not getting the bounce and roll they had enjoyed earlier in the tournament, when the conditions were so firm, dry and fast.
Max Homa didn’t let the adverse weather conditions get to him in the PGA Tour’s first event of the 2022-23 season. He grinded and kept himself in the hunt.
In a dramatic finish on the par-5, 576-yard 18th hole that turned into a two-shot swing, Homa won his second straight Fortinet Championship title when he holed a pitch shot from 32 feet, 10 inches for birdie. The winning shot came just after Homa came up well short on his third shot from a bunker near the green.
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Danny Willett, looking at a 3-foot, 7-inch birdie putt to win, missed it and three-putted for a bogey to finish second. He missed his second putt to tie it from 4 feet, 8 inches.
“Golf’s a weird game. Some crazy stuff happens on the last hole, it seems like, and that was very crazy,” said Homa. “Danny hit a beautiful shot in there and four feet for the win. It’s always going to be a bit trickier, but the way he was playing and the way he was putting … 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.”
Willett, the 2016 Masters champion who is from Sheffield, England, was clinging to a one-shot lead over Homa, at 16-under, heading to the final hole.
Willett was in a position to make birdie and win the tournament title on the last hole. He hit his second shot on to the fairway after his drive found the right rough. He stuck his approach shot just about perfect – to just 3 feet, 7 inches away from hole.
Homa hit his second shot on No. 18 into the bunker on the left, near the green. After coming out well short of the green on his third shot, he pulled off the shot of the week and the tournament, holing out his pitch for birdie, to go to 16-under, and a one-shot winning margin. Willett finished 15-under.
“That was crazy. I still don’t really know what happened. Just kind of one of those weekends you just had to hang around, I felt like,” said Homa, 31.
Homa became the first repeat winner of the PGA Tour event here since Brendan Steele won Safeway Open titles at Silverado in 2016 and 2017.
Homa shot a 4-under-par 68 in the final round and finished the event at 16-under 272.
Willett finished second after a final-round 69 for a 15-under 273 total.
Taylor Montgomery was third at 13-under 275.
Tying for fourth was Byeong Hun An and Justin Lower, each at 12-under 276. Lower was the first- and third-round leader.
The Fortinet Championship is a FedExCup regular-season event that began with the first round on Thursday, with a 156-player field chasing after an $8 million purse. It’s the first of 47 events during the 2022-23 PGA Tour season. Homa earns $1.44 million. He also collects 500 FedExCup points.
It’s Homa’s 152nd start on Tour. Three of his five wins have been in his native state of California, including the Genesis Open. The other two have been at the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina.
“The greens definitely are like home,” said Homa, who is from Valencia. “Just something about the grass, something about the people, something about the air. I love California. I always have, always will. It's wild to think I’ve had this much success in my home state. This truly makes me very, very proud and happy about that because I’ve always loved playing golf here. I’ve loved the support I've gotten. Having my friends and family out here is wild. To be able to capitalize on that and get a few wins is crazy.”
Homa had an outstanding college career playing for UC Berkeley, as he was a two-time All-American and in 2013 won the Pac-12 Conference title and the NCAA Championship.
Homa was in the group with Justin Lower and Willett. Lower took a one-stroke lead over Homa and Willett into the final round. They played in the final group Sunday at 10:12 a.m. from the first tee.
Due to the wet conditions, preferred lies (lift, clean and place) were in effect for the final round of the FedEx Cup regular season event, the PGA Tour announced at 7:24 a.m.
Homa made birdies on Nos. 9, 10 and 11 to move into a tie for the lead with Willett, at 15-under. Homa’s putt on No. 9 was from three feet. His putt on No. 10 was from nine feet. He drained a 30-footer on No. 11.
Homa made a charge after falling three behind Willett on No. 8.
“It was kind of easy to stay patient because it was hard, so it didn’t feel like it was a track meet. I guess my game felt really good all week,” said Homa. “Even the weekend I know I didn’t score quite as great, but my game felt awesome. I was hitting the ball kind of where I was looking, felt like I hit a lot better putts at the back end of yesterday and then into this morning.
“My game felt great, so I just had this calmness about me. I actually didn't feel quite as nervous as I have before. I think experience has helped a bit in some of these wins. Sunday, although it’s only 18 holes, it feels like a marathon and you just have to do your best not to be the one to beat yourself. And that's a lot easier said than done.”
Players and their caddies used umbrellas to try and stay dry. Spectators watching from the ropes also had their umbrellas out.
Because of the expected rain and forecasted inclement weather, the PGA Tour moved Sunday’s schedule up, with players going out in threesomes off split tees, Nos. 1 and 10, from approximately 8 to 10:12 a.m.
Final-round play started on time, with 15 players within five shots of the lead at the start of the day.
The weather forecast from accuweather.com was spot-on, with periods of rain.
It started raining very steadily at 10:20 a.m. and was pouring by 10:45. It’s the first significant rainfall in months in Napa County. There was another downpour at 11:45 a.m. and again at 2:45 p.m. But play was never suspended due to weather.
“I’m from Southern California, where it never rains, and when I get into the rain, I feel quite comfortable,” said Homa. “Sometimes when it’s rainy, maybe it makes me more patient.”
Homa’s average driving distance on the day was 287.5 yards. He hit 8 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation. He also had 28 putts.
“I try not to ever put too much pressure on myself to make something happen,” said Homa. “I’ve always played the back nine well here. I just really tried to play my game. It was really tricky with the rain and wind. I felt like the moment you try to make something happen, that’s when I was going to kind of kick myself, and I did not. I didn't feel I took anything on. I feel like we played super patient, trusted the game.”
Homa has been a roll since his win in the 2021 Fortinet Championship at Silverado. He won the Wells Fargo Championship at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Potomac, Maryland, and finished in a tie for No. 5 in the FedExCup standings during the 2021-22 season.
He has three wins in the last year. During the past season, he recorded five Top-10 and 15 Top-25 finishes, while also making 21 cuts in 24 starts.
In addition, he qualified for the FedExCup Playoffs for the sixth season in a row. He reached the TOUR Championship for the first time. He tied for fifth at the TOUR Championship.
He is No. 16 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
This week, he plays for the U.S. Team, as he was named as a captain’s pick for the 2022 Presidents Cup. The Presidents Cup is Sept. 20-25 at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. It’s Homa’s first appearance at the Presidents Cup.
Willett was in the lead much of the day. He had a three-shot lead after his birdie on No. 8, to get to 15-under. One of his most dramatic birdies came on the par-4, 419-yard 14th hole, when he sank a birdie putt from the fringe, from 15 feet, 5 inches, to take a one-stroke lead over Homa, at 16-under. Willett hit his second shot from behind a tree, off the bark, 167 yards.
“Obviously going to remember that last (hole), but good week, nice to be in contention basically all week from Friday,” said Willett. “Just a shame how I finished but that’s golf. We’re going to do it again another day. A bit disappointing finish to the round, but you’re trying to hole it. Hit it a little bit too firm. All in all, great week, crowds have been great, golf course has been great. It’s always nice to come back at Silverado.
“Disappointing way to finish, but first out of the season, like I said, to be in contention, things are in a good place. We’ll live to fight another day.”
Willett was asked about his reaction to seeing Homa’s chip shot go in.
“I expected him to do it, but then it’s still a bit of a shock when it happens. We all played really good today. Like I said, bit of a shame to kind of finish how I did, but he’s heading off to the Presidents Cup and hopefully he plays well there, too.”
Homa was asked about playing with Willett, who played in the 2016 Ryder Cup and has seven international wins.
“He is obviously a tremendous golfer,” said Homa. “He's just a very talented dude and has a great attitude. You can see why he’s had so much success. So, it’s always fun being around someone like him where you can watch kind of greatness in golf. Those are the guys you want to be in the mix with and see how your game stacks up. He composed himself unbelievable today, never buckled really. And then on the last (hole), obviously that’s not the way anybody could foresee it going.”
Willett’s average driving distance for the day was 281 yards. He hit 7 of 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens. He had 32 putts.
* PGA Tour rookie Taylor Montgomery closed the tournament with a bogey-free 8-under 64 and a third-place finish at 13-under. It was the best finish of the 27 PGA Tour rookies in the field.
“Overall, it was just a great day. Just a huge week, I think. I don’t know anything about the PGA Tour and points and stuff like that, but I know top-10s or top-5s, whatever we end up finishing, is very big, especially for a guy in my spot.”
* Byeong Hun An shot a final-round 71 and finished in a tie for fourth at 12-under.
“A good start. I lost my card last year and this is my first event back and I’m really happy that I finished top-5,” said An.
The weather made it a tough day, said An.
“The rain was back and forth all the time. We pulled out an umbrella every two holes. It was tough mentally, I think. I had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the speed of the greens. They’re a little bit slower and softer today, but that’s just like everyone else, I’m sure they had to adjust to it. And I feel like I grinded out there. It’s not the best I could have played today, but I definitely didn’t lose any shots out there. I feel like I tried my best today.”
* This is the ninth year in a row of Silverado hosting the PGA Tour on the North Course.
* This is the second year with Fortinet, a Silicon Valley-based company that is a global leader in broad, integrated and automated cybersecurity solutions, as the tournament’s title sponsor at Silverado.