By Tom LaMarre
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland captured the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup at the end of August, but the PGA Tour is ready to roll again and opens its new season this week with the Fortinet Championship on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa.
Max Homa (pictured), a California guy from Valencia and the University and California in Berkeley, will defend the third of his four PGA Tour victories, having defeated Maverick McNealy, another Californian from Cal’s arch-rival Stanford, by one stroke last year for the first of his two victories in 2021-22.
“I always thought if you win once a year every year (on the PGA Tour), that’s pretty incredible, so kicking off the season with a win, everything else almost seems like gravy,” said Homa, who is 20th in the World Golf Rankings. “To get a second win in a season, I hadn’t done that in my professional career yet.
“Golf is weird. Prior to that, being in college, I would have thought winning twice in a season was, not normal, but of course you are going to go win two or three times. But playing 10 or so years of professional golf it starts to be so foreign, winning in general, so it was cool to get two.”
Homa, who captured the Wells Fargo Championship later in the season, hit one of the best shots of his career last season at Silverado, which ultimately gave him the victory.
Three strokes behind and facing a 95-yard shot on the 12th hole, Homa took the advice of his caddie, Joe Greiner, and went with his lob wedge for a brilliant shot that went into the hele for an eagle.
Said Homa: “My caddie is a genius.”
Homa added: “Twitter me would have said that was my little Tiger moment. We’ve been kind of scaring the hole and I hit this one, it came out right at it and landed about where we were trying to. It was rolling up the hill, it looked really good, but (Greiner) just kind of took off walking and I made it, and I put my hand up and I was kind of waiting for him to turn around and smile or something. (Greiner) finally turned around, so I told him he looked like kind of Kevin Na, like he early walked it and it was going in, which he probably did.
“ … I had full control today. I had a really good warm-up, hit my wedges really well. The only bogey I made was going kind of right at it so just felt like I had good control. It just feels really nice.”
Homa. Who had three sand saves in his round, added three birdies and played the last seven holes in 5-under-par for a second straight 65 to claim the victory.
McNealy, seeking his first PGA Tour victory, made a double-bogey 6 on the 17th hole and despite sinking a 32-putt eagle putt on the last hole he finished one stroke short.
“Man, (Homa) came out of nowhere,” said McNealy, who had a three-stroke lead on the back nine in search of this first professional victory.
Homa and McNealy are back in the field this week along with the likes of Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, two-time Fortinet winner Brendan Steele, Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, Jason Day of Australia, Corey Conners of Canada, Stewart Cink, Jason Dufner, Cameron Davis of Australia, David Lingmerth of Sweden, Sahith Theegala of Chino Hills and Pepperdine, Taylor Pendrith of Canada, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Danny Willett of England, Dylan Frittelli of South Africa and C.T Pain of Thailand.
After an exciting finish to end the 2021-22 season, PGA Tour officials are hoping for another on to start the new campaign.
1. Max Homa, United States – The defending Fortinet champion, who is from Valencia and played nearby at Cal, won last year by one stroke over Maverick McNealy for his third PGA Tour victory and he would add the Wells Fargo Championship title later in the season. Homa wound up fifth in the FedEx Cup rankings after tying for fifth in the Tour Championship.
2. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – The highest-ranked player playing this week at No. 16 in the World, Matsuyama won the Zozo Championship and the Sony Open in Hawaii last season to give him 17 victories as a pro, and wound up 11th in the FedEx Cup standings. He tied for sixth in the Fortinet last season by closing with a 66 and also tied for third in both 2013 and 2014.
3. Taylor Pendrith, Canada – Finished last season strong after an injury by tying for 13th in the Barbasol, tying for 11th in the Barracuda, tying for second in the Rocket Mortgage, tying for 13th in the Wyndham and tying for eighth in the BMW Championship, barely missing out on the Tour Championship. Pendrith also tied for 13th in the Players Championship before being hurt.
4. Stewart Cink, United States – Captured the 2020 Fortinet by two strokes over Harry Higgs by shooting 65-65 on the weekend for one of his eight PGA Tour victories, including the 2009 Open Championship in a four-hole playoff over Tom Watson at Turnberry. Cink has eight other pro victories, but his best result last season in a down year was a tie for seventh in the Valspar.
5. Corey Conners, Canada – By tying for fifth in the BMW Championship, one of 12 top-25 results last season, Conners got into the Tour Championship the next week and finished 26th to wind up in the same spot in the FedEx Cup Rankings. He also was third in the WGC-Match Play, tied for sixth in the Masters and was sixth in the Canadian Open. Tied for 13th in 2019 Fortinet.
6. Cameron Davis, Australia – Winner of the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Championship and two other tournaments as a pro, Davis tied for third in the RBC Heritage, was sixth in the Barracuda, tied for seventh in the Charles Schwab, tied for eighth in the Charles Schwab and tied for 10th in Sentry Tournament of Champions last season. Making his debut in the Fortinet Championship.
7. Maverick McNealy, United States – The former Stanford All-American came close to his first pro victory last year in the Fortinet Championship, when he shot 64 in the second round to take the lead and finished one stroke behind winner Max Homa. McNealy also tied for seventh in the Genesis Invitational, tied for eighth in the John Deere and tied for ninth in the Barracuda.
8. David Lingmerth, Sweden – Earned his PGA Tour playing card for this season by winning the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship and finishing in the top 25 of the point standings last season on the Korn Ferry Tour. Lingmerth has two other victories as a pro, including the 2015 Memorial Championship. Tied for 17th in 2014 Fortinet Championship.
9. Brendan Steele, United States – Claimed two of his three PGA Tour victories and five as a pro in the Fortinet Championship, then the Safeway Open, by one stroke over Patton Kizzire in 2017 and two over Tony Finau in 2018. Steele tied for second in the Zozo, tied for fourth in the Zurich, tied for ninth in the PGA Championship and tied for 10th in the Memorial last season.
10. Sahith Theegala, United States – Coming off a strong rookie season in which he tied for second in the Travelers, tied for third at Phoenix, tied for fifth in the Memorial, tied for seventh in the Valspar and tied for eighth at Sanderson Farms among 11 finishes in the top 25 to reach the Tour Championship. Theegala tied for 14th in 2020 Fortinet and tied for 47th last season.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jason Dufner, United States; Dylan Frittelli, South Africa; Lucas Glover, United States; Rickie Fowler, United States; Michael Gligic, Canada; Emilano Grillo, Argentina; Russell Knox, Scotland; Webb Simpson, United States; C.T. Pan, Taiwan; Danny Willett, England; Jason Day, Australia.
1. Justin Suh, United States – Won Korn Ferry Tour Championship to earn PGA Tour card. Also T-2 in Utah Championship, two T-5s, three T-7s among 10 top-10 results last season.
2. M.J. Daffue, South Africa – Finished T-2 in Suncoast Classic and Boise Open, wound up third twice, T-4 in Lake Charles Championship among to top-10s on 2022 Korn Ferry Tour.
3. Joseph Bramlett, United States – Winner of 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Championship was T-6, T-18 and T-23 in three Korn Ferry Tour playoff events recently to regain PGA Tour card.
4. Harry Hall, England – Claimed the NV5 Invitational in playoff for second pro victory and was T-3 Korn Ferry Tour Championship among four top-10s this season to earn PGA Tour card.
5. Will Gordon, United States – Captured the Albertsons Boise Open and was T-3 in the Main Open among six top-10 finishes on Korn Ferry Tour last season to regain his PGA Tour card.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html