Max Homa overcomes near-debacle — and his Tiger Woods fear

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LOS ANGELES — Max Homa was overwhelmed.

That occurred when he stunningly lipped out his 54-inch birdie putt on the 72nd hole that would have won the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club …

… and when he outlasted Tony Finau on the second playoff hole to win the tournament he should have won about an hour earlier.

Homa is a Los Angeles-area native who cherishes this tournament, which he began attending with his father when he was a child. Now he’s won at Riviera and he was presented the trophy by Tiger Woods, whose foundation hosts the tournament.

“I’ve been watching this tournament my whole life,’’ Homa said through tears in the immediate aftermath of his second career PGA Tour victory. “Tiger is a reason I’m into golf. I saw Tiger [on Saturday, when Woods first arrived on property] and was too scared to talk to him. Now, he’s forced to talk to me.’’

Homa said, when Woods presented him the trophy, he apologized to him for choking on the putt to win in regulation on 18.

“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,’’ Homa said. “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.’’

Golf
Max Homa stands with the trophy and tournament host Tiger Woods after defeating Tony Finau in a playoff.
Getty Images

The missed birdie putt?

“I was shaking like a leaf,’’ Homa conceded. “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.’’

Homa said his wife, Lacey, as she does on occasion, gave him some thinking points for the day.

“Forgive quickly’’ was the crux of her message Sunday morning.

After he signed his scorecard following the missed putt and was getting ready for the playoff, Homa called her and said, “I think I kind of choked a little bit.’’

“No, you played great, don’t worry about it, don’t forget to forgive quickly,’’ she told him.

Asked to rank this win against any other tournament he wanted to win, Homa said, “1-A, 1-B and 1-C.’’

“I don’t know if I could ever do anything cooler in golf than this,’’ he said. “We 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 Riviera Country Club, idolizing the golf tournament. To get it done, it’s almost shocking.’’

In tournament golf, sometimes the beauty lies as much in the aesthetics of the great shots as it does in the pressure of the moments and how it affects the players.

For three days, the tournament was Sam Burns’ to win. The 24-year-old from Louisiana opened the week with a 64 and was the first player since Charlie Sifford in 1969 to have led through the first three rounds of the tournament.

But the pressure of trying to secure his first PGA Tour victory led Burns to become unglued by three damaging bogeys on the back nine Sunday that disintegrated the lead he had all week and left him in a disappointing tie for third.

Enter Finau, who’s becoming the PGA Tour’s most gracious bridesmaid, as a top-10 and runner-up machine.

Finau shot a final-round 7-under 64 and looked like he was finally going to seize the opportunity and hoist a trophy instead of congratulating the winner.

Homa gave him that chance when his birdie putt lipped out on 18, forcing a playoff.

Homa appeared to give Finau yet another chance when his tee shot on the 10th hole, the first of the sudden-death playoff, appeared stymied against a tree trunk. But Homa hooded a 60-degree wedge and bumped a chip onto the green.

Golf
Tony Finu
AP

Finau had a 7-foot birdie putt for the win and faded it just short and to the right of the cup, sending the two to the par-3 14th, where Homa would win after Finau’s tee shot landed in a bunker.

For Finau, whose only PGA Tour win came in the Puerto Rico opposite-field event in 2016, it was his third consecutive runner-up finish and 11th runner-up dating back to 2018. Since 2017, he has a remarkable 39 top-10 finishes.

“Yeah, it’s bittersweet to be in this position again,’’ Finau said. “Sports is about winning. But I know at the end of the day you’re going to lose a lot more times than you’re going to win on the PGA Tour. Unfortunately for me that’s come really close in the last few years.

“I had another great shot [Sunday]. I don’t know what else I can say other than I enjoy playing good golf and one of these days it will happen for me and hopefully turn into kind of a domino effect.’’

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