Play every golf tournament at Riviera Country Club. That’s the takeaway from Sunday’s thrilling finish and two-hole playoff between Max Homa and Tony Finau, which Homa went on to win in what is easily the most meaningful victory of the year. Homa called it his Masters after the round, and it certainly had the feel of a major championship for most of the day on Sunday.
The day started early with first, second and third-round leader Sam Burns (as well as several other players) finishing up a suspended third round at daybreak. Burns took a healthy two-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson, Homa and Matthew Fitzpatrick into the finale at a track that was fast, firm and ejecting players all over the place.
After a 31 on the front, Burns looked poised for the first PGA Tour win of his career. But he melted a bit coming home with a 38 on the back and opened the door to a field that was standing just beyond it. Homa and Finau walked through.
Homa, who dreamed of just playing in this tournament as a kid, shot a closing 66 to get into the playoff with Finau, but it ended with disaster. After striping his tee shot on the 72nd hole just behind Finau tidying up a round-of-the-day 64, Homa hit the shot he’s always imagined hitting: a baby draw to 40 inches to beat the best field of 2021.
Then he lipped out the putt.
It was as excruciating as golf gets, but it was somehow about to get worse. On the first playoff hole, Homa hit his shot out to the left and it nestled up next to a tree. His only shot was to hood a wedge and try to hook something onto the front of the green. He somehow did and made a 4 — same as Finau. It was the second straight day of miracle shots for Max on 10, which should be renamed the Homa Hole.
Homa made par at the second playoff hole as well, and a Finau bogey led to victory No. 2 in Homa’s career. The range of emotions from the stiffed iron on 18 to the missed putt to the stymie on No. 10 to the victory looked like a Jordan Spiethian roller coaster. It was more surprising that he was upright at the end of it all than the fact he won.
But the postscript was somehow better than the performance. After the green was cleared and Homa stepped up to the microphone, he immediately broke down. How could he not? When you care as much as Homa does and win at a place like this in the manner in which he did, words are paltry.
“I’ve been watching this tournament my whole life,” he said. “It’s the reason I fell in love with golf.”
Max Homa emotional after his win:
“Been watching this tournament my whole life. It’s why I fell in love with golf … I was too scared to talk to Tiger the other day but he’s forced to talk to me now so it’s gonna be pretty awesome.” 😂@maxhoma23 pic.twitter.com/1BWi7kflyH
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) February 21, 2021
I hope you watch that whole clip of Homa. It’s why this is the most meaningful win of 2021 thus far. We (rightfully) make much of the four big ones, the major championships. But they are not the only golf tournaments that matter, and Homa is evidence of why this is true.
Location matters, and for Homa there’s nowhere better than Riv. Presence matters, and for Homa to rebound like he did after the gaffe on No. 18 was truly staggering. People matter, and for Homa to win the tournament his family took him to as a child is monumental. And purpose matters. For Homa, that’s taking the next step as a genuinely terrific PGA Tour player by winning a tournament that looked like a major on TV and certainly felt like one to him. Grade: A+
Jon Rahm (T5): I don’t believe I even saw Rahm until the very end of Sunday, and all of a sudden he was shooting 66 and finishing T5. The cream almost always rises, and Rahm finished fourth in this field from tee to green. Riviera has a knack for bringing the best out of the best players, and Rahm was one of the best this week despite not having a putter at all. Grade: A-
Dustin Johnson (T8): It was a tough Sunday for D.J. after he shot 72 playing in the final group on a day where the scoring average dipped into the 60s. He didn’t have it from the jump, though, as he parred the first (an easy birdie hole) and never truly got involved. His end came on No. 10 when he chipped into a tree, made 5 and fell way back of the leaders. Another fairly easy top 10 for him nonetheless. Grade: B+
Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy (MC): They were a combined 17 over and all three missed the weekend. Again, major championship-like courses tend to reveal who’s playing great golf, and none of these three had the goods this week. Tiger Woods came on the telecast late on Sunday and talked about the importance of angles at Riviera, and the combined 4 strokes these three lost from tee to green would suggest they did not play them well. Also, all three putted it horrifically, which did not help. There’s no long-term concern here — Thomas missed two of three cuts to begin 2020 and still won and McIlroy has not missed a cut in nearly two years — but for one week in Los Angeles, they all played as poorly as they can possibly play. Grade: F