NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Max Homa knew he had no choice but to take a shot at the par-5 18th hole if he wanted to defend his Fortinet Championship title. Behind Danny Willett by one shot, he went to the green in two but ended up in a tight spot in a bunker near the green. He exploded, but was not yet on the surface of the green.
Homa stayed aggressive, and this time it was worth it, ramming his 33 foot chip into the hole for a closing birdie. Still, all Willett needed to do was make his own birdie from close range, and he didn’t deliver.
Willett hit his 3-foot-7 putt too hard. He skimmed the edge and ran 4 feet, 8 inches. Then his comeback turned left, hit the rim and also stayed out, completing a shocking collapse that made Homa the winner again in Napa.
“That was crazy. I still don’t really know what happened,” said Homa, a college star in California who now has three wins at the Golden State. “Just one of those weekends where you had to hang out.”
Homa high-fived his caddy when his shot hit the flagstick and fell. Moments later, he was a five-time PGA Tour winner.
“Those things happen. Luckily we’ve been in a good position all week and then unfortunate things happen when you feel like you need them the most,” said Willett, who hasn’t won in the United States since taking advantage of Jordan Spieth’s collapse to win the 2016 Masters.
Willett racked up 65 yards before the 18th green, then got close enough that closing out the tournament should have been routine.
“It’s a shame how it ended, but I’m pretty sure those are the only short putts we’ve missed all week. It’s a shame to do it when I did it. One of those things. Sometimes you wish you could rewind time. We learn from that and move on,” she said.
Homa had been having trouble with his putter over the weekend, but in the end he didn’t need it.
“Today I hit it good, kept it around the hole where it needed to be, just couldn’t get the ball home,” he said. “On the 18th he decided to go home quickly, so that was a nice bonus.”
Homa closed at 4-under 66 for a 16-under 272 total and now heads to Charlotte, North Carolina as the captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup with three wins in the last 12 months. Willett shot 69. Taylor Montgomery was only in third place at 13 under par after a close of 64.
Homa’s wife, Lacey, had no idea what she had just done, but she rushed to hug her husband. She is pregnant with her first child, a boy, due on November 2.
“I’m shocked right now,” she said. “I didn’t see what was happening.”
The leaders’ tee times were moved up nearly four hours in an effort to complete the round before the North course at Silverado Resort & Spa became completely unplayable. Greens that had been hard and fast earlier in the week because of the sun and wind were suddenly the opposite, slow and soft because of all the water.
Justin Lower had a one shot lead going into the final day as he chased his first title after years of fighting just to secure his tour card. The 33-year-old American finished tied for fourth with Byeong Hun An at 12-under after shooting 1-for-1 73.
Willett birdied three holes on the back nine to take a three-shot lead, only to miss a short putt for par on the par-5 ninth when Lower birdied back within a shot.
Homa and Willett started the day a shot behind Lower. All three players birdied the par 4 tenth.
On the par 4 of the 14th, Willett made a miraculous birdie. His tee shot landed behind a tree, and he then lobbed the ball around him to the back of the strip before sinking a 5-foot putt.
On the front nine, Willett birdied Nos. 1, 4 and 8, making a 7-foot birdie on the par-4 eighth, while Lower bogeyed.
Willett, 34, of Sheffield, England, relaxed, laughed with his caddy and smiled between holes in less-than-ideal conditions in California’s famed wine country: wind and heavy rain the first three holes, a brief respite, then more. rain. He regularly toweled his clubs dry, cleaned his shoes before putting on, and slipped on and off his sleeveless black vest.
The weather created an intimate gallery of umbrella-wearing hardliners willing to brave the elements.
“It’s why I came to California,” Willett joked with a laugh at the start of their final round.
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