HARTFORD, Conn. – Max Homa was understandably plenty emotional after notching his second PGA Tour victory on Sunday.
Homa grew up in Los Angeles and, starting at 2 years old, went to the annual PGA Tour event in the City of Angels every year at legendary Riviera Country Club and later worshipped a fellow Californian named Tiger Woods.
Homa first fell in love with the smell and salty taste of Riviera CC’s warm soft pretzels while a toddler on his father’s shoulders and then sought autographs and dreamed about forging his own memories on his favorite course as a high school and college standout. On Sunday, Homa fulfilled the dream but not before a script that the best Hollywood writers would have trouble duplicating.
And as fate would have it, Homa was in contention in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera CC, where the tournament host was his idol, Mr. Woods, still sidelined while recovering from a fifth back surgery and questionable for Masters in April. Homa experienced a topsy-turvy final 90 minutes before beating tough-luck loser Tony Finau with a par 3 on the second playoff hole.
Homa had a golden opportunity to win on the final hole of regulation when he hit a wedge to 40 inches but lipped out the birdie putt, settling for a 4-under-par 67 and a 72-hole total of 12-under 272, which Finau had reached earlier with a closing 64, the low round of the day by two strokes. On the first playoff hole, the short par-4 10th, Homa pulled his drive long, his ball nestling up against a tree trunk. But he hooded a 60-degree wedge and bumped a chip shot that stopped 12 feet from the cup.
“Sometimes when you get your creative brain working, you see it,” Homa said of his miraculous recovery. “I felt pretty good about putting it on the front right of the green. Just sometimes you have to trust your instincts and that’s kind of the fun of golf. It’s not always fairways and greens, you’ve got to be an artist at times, and fortunately I did it when I needed to.”
Homa missed his birdie bid but got a reprieve when Finau lipped out a 6-footer to win, and the duo went to what would be the decisive par-3 14th hole. Finau hooked his tee shot into a bunker and missed a 10-foot putt to save par, while Homa made a routine 3 and then had difficulty getting through an interview with CBS’ Amanda Balionis.
“I’ve been watching this tournament my whole life, it’s why I fell in love with golf, and, wow, didn’t think it’d be like this,” Homa said, choking back tears. “I had a good feeling this week because I had been playing great. City of champions, you know – Dodgers, Lakers and now me, so it’s a weird feeling.”
Especially after what had transpired on Saturday, when Woods first arrived on the property because his foundation is a beneficiary of the tournament.
“Tiger is another reason I’m into golf,” said Homa, whose only other PGA Tour win came in the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship. “I saw Tiger (on Saturday) and was too scared to talk to him. Now, he’s forced to talk to me.”
The 30-year-old Homa then adjourned to the awards ceremony and was handed the winner’s trophy by Woods. Homa said when Woods made the handoff, he apologized for choking on the putt to win in regulation.
“He told me, ‘Way to hang tough’ after I missed that putt on 18, and I told him I was embarrassed I missed a shortie in front of the most clutch athlete ever,” said Homa, who was born in Burbank. “That was a surreal moment. I have looked up to Tiger my entire life, and to be standing anywhere with him let alone with the trophy in between us was pretty cool.”
And what did Homa think about missing the shortie to win after he had made 55 of 56 putts inside five feet during the week?
“I was shaking like a leaf,” Homa admitted. “This tournament means so much to me. My dad’s been bringing me here since I was basically a baby. It’s truly a dream come true.”
Asked to rank this win against any other tournament he wanted to win, including the Masters for which he qualified with this title, Homa said, “1-A, 1-B and 1-C.”
“I don’t know if I could ever do anything cooler in golf than this,” Homa said. “My caddie Joe (Grenier) and I were raised 25 miles north of here. I mean, Tiger Woods is handing us a trophy, that’s a pretty crazy thought. We grew up idolizing him, idolizing the golf tournament. To get it done, it’s almost shocking.”
Homa vaulted to 10th in the FedExCup points standings, secured a berth in the World Golf Championships-Workday Championships at The Concession this week and earned a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour for winning the elevated status event.
Homa and Finau were the survivors after Sam Burns couldn’t keep pace after leading through three rounds, which were completed Sunday morning. Burns shot an opening 64 and was the first player since 1967 Greater Hartford Open champion and World Golf Hall of Famer Charlie Sifford in 1969 to have the lead through the first three rounds. But after starting with two birdies in the first three holes on the way to a front-nine, 4-under 31, Burns bogeyed the 12th, 14th and 15th in a closing 69 that left him a shot out of the playoff.
But the most disappointment belonged to Finau, who appeared would be the winner several times before again having to congratulate someone else. Finau, whose only PGA Tour win came in the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open in 2016, finished runner-up for his third consecutive start and 11th time since 2018. Since his only victory, Finau has a remarkable 37 Top-10 finishes, with the next most by any player being 16.
“Yeah, it’s bittersweet to be in this position again,” said Finau, one of the most personable and liked player in the game who had eight birdies as he equaled his career-best final round on the PGA Tour. “Sports is about winning. I had another great shot. I don’t know what else I can say other than I enjoy playing good golf and one of the days it will happen for me and hopefully turn into kind of a domino effect.”
Another disappointed finisher was Dustin Johnson, winner of the 2020 Travelers Championship and ranked No. 1 in the world. Johnson started the final round two back and birdied two of the first six holes but bogeyed five of the last 10 holes to close with 70 and a tie for eighth at 278. Johnson is the first player to commit to the Travelers Championship and will defend June 24-27 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. Tournament officials hope a limited number of fans can attend Connecticut’s biggest sporting event that was a TV-only tournament last year.