Max Homa defends Fortinet Championship in Napa in stunning fashion

Max Homa defended his Fortinet Championship title in stunning fashion.

Trailing by one stroke on the final hole, Homa holed out for birdie and watched in amazement as leader Danny Willett three-putted from less than 4 feet.

“I can’t believe what I just saw,” Golf Channel host Terry Gannon said.

Neither did Homa, who closed at 4-under 68 on Silverado Resort’s North Course in Napa, Calif., and posted a 72-hole total of 16-under 272. It was good enough for his fifth PGA Tour title and third in Golden State.

“I still don’t know what happened,” Homa said. “The last three minutes are kind of a blur.”

On a crisp, cold, rainy day, Willett built a three-shot lead early in the final round with birdies on Nos. 1, 4 and 8, but gave it a shot back with a bogey on the ninth. He pulled ahead again with an outstanding birdie at 14, where he chipped his approach from behind a tree to 15 feet and conserved the putt. Homa, a 31-year-old Cal-Berkeley graduate, made a valiant effort to defend his title, making three straight birdies starting on No. 9.

“My trainer (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, he forced Willett to hole out 4 feet for the trophy.

“I spun it and as soon as it hit the needle, it almost rolled straight to the ground. It was just one of those things,” Homa said. “Golf is a strange game, some crazy things happen on the last hole and this was pretty crazy.”

It was as clutch as the clutch gets, and yet it didn’t seem like it was enough until Willett hit his shot hard for the win and it went out. Willett’s miss on the 5-foot return was even more shocking and gifted 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 place. Justin Lower closed in 73, settling for a tie for fourth, but notched his career-best finish. Rickie Fowler, who tied for sixth, secured just his third top-10 finish in his last 59 starts.

Homa’s second shot on the par-5 18th caught the left greenside bunker, leaving himself a difficult 30-yard drive from the sand.

“I had to assume he was going to make it and I went for the hero’s bunker shot and I didn’t get it at all,” Homa said.

He blasted 33 yards from the green before hanging out for the eventual winning birdie.

“I expected him to do it,” Willett said, “but then it’s still a little bit of a shock when it happens.”

For the week, the 34-year-old Englishman had drilled more than 96 percent of his shots from inside 10 meters, including a 9-foot clutch putt on 17 to maintain his lead. But his first putt from 4 feet wound up on the left side and he faced a longer putt to force a playoff than his previous attempt. Willett was trying 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. “Yes, we will live to fight another day.”

Homa heads into his first appearance representing the United States on its 12-man team at next week’s Presidents Cup, a biennial tournament of team matches against the world’s top 12 non-European players, with a additional increase in confidence.

“I’m happy to be fit, to represent my country, to play with those guys. They are good players so I just wanted to get fit,” he said. “I know this is Twitter but I’ve had a lot of people tell me if the LIV guys hadn’t left I wouldn’t have made the Presidents Cup team so I had a little chip in me. shoulder this week.”

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