By TOM LaMARRE
Following only a two-week off-season, the PGA Tour is back beginning Thursday with the Fortinet Championship on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, where Max Homa of Valencia and Cal will be seeking a three-peat.
The Fortinet kicks off the inaugural FedEx Cup Fall, which will finalize the top 125 who retain their PGA Tour status for 2024.
Players who were outside No. 71 in the FedEx Cup point standings after the Tour Championship will continue to compete in the FedEx Cup Fall to remain in the top 125 through The RSM Classic on Nov. 16-19.
Nos. 51-70 in the FedEx Cup standings after East Lake already have clinched their cards for next season but are competing for spots in the first two Signature Events after The Sentry; Nos. 51-60 in the FedEx Cup standings after The RSM get into those events.
Players who finished in the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings will still be able compete in the FedEx Cup Fall.
“I’m excited to be back in Napa to defend my titles in the Fortinet Championship,” Homa wrote on his Instagram page.
The seventh-ranked Homa, who has captured eight titles on the PGA Tour, closed with 65-65 and defeated Maverick McNealy of Portola Valley and Stanford by one stroke in the Fortinet two years ago.
Last year as defending champion, Homa opened with 65-67 and held on to beat Danny Willett of England by one stroke before also winning the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla by two strokes over Keegan Bradley in January.
Homa chipped in for a birdie on the last hole to beat Willett, who missed a four-foot birdie putt on No. 18.
“It was kind of a wild finish,” Homa said. “The last, like … three minutes are kind of a blur. But I played really good golf. I played solid. … That was crazy. I still don’t really know what happened. It was one of those weekends you just had to hang around.
“ … I don’t know what it is about this golf course, but it just seems to fit my game, and obviously I’ve had to play well here to win twice at Silverado.”
Homa will try to become the first player on the PGA Tour to win the same tournament three years in a row since Steve Stricker captured the John Deere Classic from 2009-11. Others on the short list of players who have won the same tournament three straight times include PGA Tour legends Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
While Homa is the only player in the top 10 of the World Golf Rankings in the Fortinet field, others who are playing this week include former world No. 1 Justin Thomas, Sahith Theegala of Chino Hills and Pepperdine, Webb Simpson, Kevin Kisner, Stewart Cink, Matt Kuchar, Mackenzie Hughes of Canada, Martin Laird of Scotland, Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner, Ryan Moore, J.J. Spaun of Los Angeles and San Diego State, Cam Davis of Australia, Brian Gay, Erik van Rooyen of South Africa, K.H. Lee of South Korea, Jimmy Walker, Brendon Todd, Stephan Jaeger of Germany, Andrew Putnam of Pepperdine and Cameron Champ of Sacramento.
Homa figures to have plenty of challengers.
1. Max Homa, United States—The seventh-ranked Homa has won the Fortinet by one stroke each of the last two years and has eight victories in his PGA Tour career. He is playing in the event for the eighth time and also tied for ninth in 2013. Last season, he posted 17 finishes in the top 25, including another victory in the Farmers and tied for ninth in the FedEx Cup standings.
2. Justin Thomas, United States—The former world No. 1 has 15 victories on the PGA Tour, but none since winning the PGA Championship for the second time in May of 2022. Thomas recorded only four finishes in the top 10 last season and is 71st in the FedEx Cup standings. He tied for fourth in this tournament in 2019, tied for eighth in 2016 and tied for third in 2015.
3. Cam Davis, Australia—Claimed his only PGA Tour victory on the fifth hole of a playoff in the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic and has three other pro titles, including the 2017 Australian Open. Davis had eight top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour last season, including three top-10s in a row late in the season, but shot 74-70 to miss the cut in his only Fortinet start last season.
4. Sahith Theegala, United States—The former Pepperdine star had 12 finishes in the top 25 on the PGA Tour last season, including a tie for second in The RSM Classic and solo ninth in his first appearance in the Masters. Theegala teamed with Tom Hoge for his only pro victory in the 2022 QBE Shootout. He tied for sixth in the Fortinet last year after tying for 14th in 2020.
5. Stephan Jaeger, Germany—The six-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he was the 2021 Player of the Year, Jaeger recorded nine top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour last season, including ties for ninth in the Houston Open and the Rocket Mortgage Classic, in which he was solo fifth the season before. He is making his fifth Fortinet start and tied for 30th in 2017.
6. Lucas Herbert, Australia—A three-time winner on the DP World Tour, including the 2023 ISPS Handa Championship with a birdie on the second playoff hole, Herbert claimed his only PGA Tour title in the 2021 Butterfield Bermuda Championship. He reached the round of 16 in the WGC Match Play, tied for 15th in the Travelers and tied for 20th in the Shriner’s last season.
7. Alex Noren, Sweden—Has claimed 11 victories around the world, including the 2016 British Masters and the 2017 BMW PGA Championship, but still is looking to break through on the PGA Tour. Noren, who tied for sixth in the 2016 Open Championship, tied for fourth in the Houston Open, tied for ninth in the Rocket Mortgage and tied for 36th in Fortinet debut last year.
8. Beau Hossler, United States—Still looking for his first pro victory after losing in a playoff to Ian Poulter in the 2018 Houston Open, Hossler recorded 11 top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour last season, including solo third in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and a tie for sixth in the Barracuda Championship. The 14-time winner as an amateur tied for 16th in the 2021 Fortinet.
9. Brendon Todd, United States—Has won seven times as a pro, including three titles on the PGA Tour but not since winning the Bermuda Championship and the Mayakoba Classic in 2019, though Todd came close twice last season. He tied for second at Pebble Beach and in the John Deere, in addition to tying for ninth in the Fortinet Championship among six top-10 finishes.
10. Andrew Putnam, United States—Another former Pepperdine star, Putnam has won three times as a pro, including the 2018 Barracuda Championship on the PGA Tour. He came close again last season when he tied for second in the Zozo, tied for fourth in the Sony Open and tied for fifth in the Memorial. His best in the Fortinet results were ties for 30th in 2017 and 2021.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Webb Simpson, United States; Kevin Streelman, United States; Mackenzie Hughes, Canada; Stewart Cink, United States; Matt Kuchar, United States; Martin Laird, Scotland; K.H. Lee, South Korea; Garrick Higgo, South Africa; J.J. Spaun, United States; Chez Reavie, United States.
1. Eric Cole, United States—A 12-time winner on the Minor League Golf Tour, Cole lost to Chris Kirk in a playoff at the 2023 Honda Classic, one of his eight top-10 finishes last season.
2. C.T. Pan, Taiwan—The four-time pro titlist, including the 2019 RBC Heritage, Pan was T-3 in Canadian Open and solo fourth in the Byron Nelson last season. Finished T-6 in 2021 Fortinet.
3. Henrik Norlander, Sweden—Has won three times as pro, twice on the Korn Ferry Tour, and lost in a playoff in 2016 RSM Classic on PGA Tour. Had five top-25s on PGA Tour last season.
4. Devon Bling, United States—The former UCLA star, who won six amateur events in recent years, posted seven top-25s on PGA Tour Canada last season, including two runner-up finishes.
5. Preston Summerhays, United States—The PGA Tour rookie claimed two amateur victories this year, including the Sahalee Players Championship, which earned him a spot in the Fortinet.
For first-round tee times, visit: https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard