The weirdest golf year in recent memory delivered perhaps the strangest start to a season in PGA Tour history. Max Homa (-16) won the Fortinet Championship on Sunday over Danny Willett (-15) by a single stroke, but that doesn't even begin to tell the story of what happened at Silverado Country Club on Sunday afternoon.
The duo played in the final trio in the final round in Napa, the first of 47 PGA Tour events in the 2022-23 season, and both took the tee box on the first hole one back of their third playing partner, Justin Lower, who began the day at 13 under. Lower played decent golf for the first nine holes, but both Homa and Willett caught him, and it became mostly a two-man race on the second nine.
It was a race that Willett appeared as if he was going to win following a heroic birdie on the par-4 14th hole from behind a tree. That moved him to 16 under on the week and put him one up on Homa going into the final four holes.
Both men parred the next three, which meant Willett's one-stroke lead still stood on the 18th tee box. What happened over the next 20 minutes was astounding.
How it unfolded on No. 18
On the 576-yard closing hole, Willett hit a poor drive out to the right but got back in position and on his third shot hit a filthy wedge to 3 feet 7 inches for a birdie that would have put him at 17 under and guaranteed a win unless Homa made eagle.
Homa was not going to make eagle. He left his 3-wood approach short of the green in a bunker and then didn't reach the green with his third shot out of the sand. Standing 32 feet from the cup in a low spot around the 18th green, with Willett's marker -- not even 4 feet away from the cup -- staring back at him, Homa knew he would have to hole his birdie chip attempt. And then he did.
Remember, that didn't guarantee victory or even a playoff, though. Willett had a short 3-foot, 7-inch putt for birdie to pull ahead of Homa and win the tournament moments after Homa tied him at 16 under. He hit the birdie putt almost 9 feet, which meant he still had another 5 feet coming back for par and a playoff with Homa. Incredibly, he missed that one, too.
It was the first time all week anyone in the field had three-putted from inside of 5 feet. Everyone who made the cut was T1 in three-putt avoidance from 5 feet and closer. They all finished 100% at avoiding three putts from that distance or closer. Poor Danny Willett was 73rd at 95%.
'It was a wild finish'
Willett said after the round that he was not surprised by Homa chipping in ahead of his three-putt and that he was proud of the way he started his new season. A win here would have been his ninth in 355 career OWGR events but just his second on the PGA Tour.
"I expected him to do it,, but then it's still a bit of a shock when it happens," Willett said. "We all played really good today. Like I said, bit of a shame to kind of finish how I did."
"Obviously going to remember that last, but good week, nice to be in contention basically all week from Friday," added Willett. "Yeah, just a shame how I finished but that's golf, we're going to do it again another day. yeah, a bit disappointing finish to the round, but you're trying to hole it. Hit it a little bit too firm."
Homa said his head was spinning at what had transpired.
"Last like three minutes are kind of a blur, but I played really good golf, I played solid," Homa said. "Danny and Justin both played great, but I just tried to play my game and just see where it got me. I don't know, it was a wild finish."
Exciting ending gives Homa vintage victory
The victory is Homa's second straight at the Fortinet Championship and his fourth in his last 41 starts worldwide. Incredibly, nobody has more individual OWGR victories since the start of 2021. Not Rory McIlroy (4). Not Scottie Scheffler (4). Not Sam Burns, Viktor Hovland or Xander Schauffele (all also 4).
It has been true for over a year now, but given his early-career struggles, it remains wild that Homa has become such a consistent winner and such a threat at all events, but especially so when he's one of the top few players in the field (which has become most events he plays in). His finish on Sunday was indicative of a player who has matured into a star on the PGA Tour, but it was also indicative of an insane sport that seemingly never delivers a bland week.
In fact, a sleepy few days in wine country had all the makings of one of the more low-key tournaments of the entire calendar year, and that's how it went for most of the first 71 holes. Then it suddenly turned and we got a hole-out, an abysmal three-putt and perhaps the most shocking final few minutes we'll see on the PGA Tour from now through next year's Tour Championship.