Homa Wins Genesis Invitational on Second Playoff Hole at Riviera Country Club
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
One of Max Homa’s most thrilling memories growing up was watching Tiger Woods battle Billy Mayfair in a playoff at Valencia Country Club in 1998. Homa didn’t get a chance to shake his idol’s hand back then, but he did Sunday afternoon when Woods presented him the Genesis Invitational trophy following a dramatic final round at Riviera Country Club.
A Southern California native and lifelong Dodgers and Lakers fan, Homa is now a hometown hero in the “City of Champions.”
Homa missed a golden opportunity to win in regulation when his 40-inch birdie putt on the 18th green lipped out, but he finally secured victory on the second playoff hole when Tony Finau rolled a 10-foot par putt inches wide of the hole at No. 14. Homa had tapped in for his par moments before.
“You’re not supposed to miss a three-footer in front of Tiger Woods,” Homa declared. “I saw him yesterday and was too scared to talk to him, but he’s forced to talk to me now. I think this is the best course in the world!”
Homa collected a $1,674,000 winner’s check and 550 FedExCup points. He is projected to advance to 38th in the Official World Golf Ranking and to No. 10 in the 2020-21 FedExCup standings.
“The young me would’ve had a hard time dreaming this one,” Homa added. “It was fun to watch from the other side of the ropes. Even just playing every day I come here is kind of a pinch-me moment. So when I saw my name up at the top of the leaderboard, it hit me, but it was helpful that I played well here last year and got to go through those emotions. I felt much calmer this year. It’s truly a dream come true. My dad’s been bringing me here since I was basically a baby. So yeah, I think 8-year-old Max would be pretty darn proud.”
After Homa’s drive on No. 10 embedded in rough next to a tree trunk he punched it onto the green and two-putted for par. Finau had a chance to end it on that first playoff hole, but missed a five-footer for birdie. Finau started the final round in a six-way deadlock for fifth, four back of leader Sam Burns, but fired a 7-under 64 to finish at -12 along with Homa.
Burns (-11) finished alone in third and Australian Cameron Smith (-9) finished fourth. Jon Rahm, England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick and Norway’s Viktor Hovland tied for fifth at -8. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (-6) ended in a three-way tie for eighth with Wyndham Clark and Italy’s Francesco Molinari.
The third-round scoring average of 73.343 was the highest for a weekend round at Riviera since 1983. It also drew the field closer to Burns, setting up a wild finish.
“Disappointing,” Finau said of the one that got away. “I didn’t execute the shot I was trying to hit here on the next hole and it bit me in the butt. Today’s round was pretty special. I was able to make some key putts in regulation just to keep myself in it. We were trying to catch Sam all day. We saw him get to 13 and I was at 9, 10, so I was still trying to keep the pedal to the metal, trying to make some birdies coming down the stretch.”
Burns held the sole lead until Homa, one group ahead, caught him at the 14th. Burns bogeyed the hole to fall a shot back at -10.
“I didn’t play well enough,” Burns said. “I didn’t drive it well enough over the last seven holes. I have a lot of areas I need to improve and it really showed today.”
The playoff was the 13th in the 58 years the Los Angeles tour stop has been held at Riviera and the first since James Hahn won in sudden death in 2015 at what was then the Northern Trust Open.
Finau moved to sixth in the FedExCup standings after equaling his lowest final round score. “I had a chance to win on that first playoff hole and decided to play that putt a little downhill and shouldn’t have,” he lamented.
Despite there being no crowds lining the fairways or camped out at the bowl around the 18th green, the title was up for grabs on the back nine, with six players creeping within four shots of the lead. As always, Riviera proved to be as much a test of will as skill.
Wrapping up the third round early Sunday morning, Burns did what no one has here in 50 years—hold the outright lead after each of the first three rounds. He bogeyed one of his last five holes to take a two-shot lead into the final 18.
Gusts near 35 miles per hour forced play to be halted for four hours Saturday—the first time play was suspended for high winds on the PGA TOUR since the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews. The last non-major stoppage for wind was the 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Johnson was surprised upon being called back onto the course.
“I didn’t believe we’d resume play since it was the same as when we quit, if not blowing harder,” he admitted. “Obviously it’s supposed to die down about the time that we went back out. They made a good call. It played fine, it was fair. It wasn’t like anything outrageous, but just played tough.”
Missing the cut were 2007 winner Charles Howell III (+9): world No. 3 Justin Thomas (+8); No. 7 Rory McIlroy (+7); three-time winner Bubba Watson (+4); reigning U.S. Open champ Bryson DeChambeau (+2); Matt Kuchar (+1) who tied for second last year; and Spaniard Sergio Garcia (+1).
Burns was red hot the first two days. His 12-under-par 130 tied the tournament’s scoring record for the first 36 holes (last accomplished in 2004 by Mike Weir and Shigeki Maruyama) and his five-shot advantage was the largest 36-hole lead in tournament history. He opened with an 18-foot eagle putt and closed with three birdies in a row for a 7-under 64 Thursday, then added a bogey-free round of 66 Friday.
“This course doesn’t necessarily give you a lot of opportunities at times, so just put it in the right spots,” Burns said at the halfway point. “When you get in a tricky spot, just try to get it back in position. The thing about this place is if the ball lands in the rough, it stops, but if it lands in the fairway, it goes another 50. Yesterday I hit one kind of right, hit a tree and I had hybrid in. It’s a course where if you get the ball in the fairways, it’s going to go a lot further; if it lands in the rough, it’s going to stop.”
Homa, who grew up 30 miles north of Riviera, felt comfortable Thursday with four straight birdies on his way to a first-round 66.
“I didn’t get to play here until I was 21 I think in the National Championship, but I’d been here probably 20 times before that,” the 30-year-old from Valencia stated. “A great memory is watching Mike Weir on the putting green. It was raining, I was standing under somebody’s umbrella, they moved and I got drenched with water. I know this course. I’ve played it a few more times since college and it’s the grass I grew up on. Kikuyu, poa annua, it’s comfortable for me.”
Homa drilled his approach within inches of the cup and eagled the first hole on Saturday to pull within four shots of the lead.
Tae Hoon Kim aced the par 3 166-yard 16th hole Thursday to win a 2021 Genesis G80 car.
“I didn’t see the ball go in the hole but then I noticed some people up at the green celebrating and realized it went in,” the South Korean said. “That was a pretty special thing to happen in my first PGA TOUR event.”
Woods suffered multiple leg injuries from a single-car rollover crash on Tuesday in Rancho Palos Verdes and underwent surgery at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
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