BY DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) – The dream of winning on the Riviera felt too good to be true for Max Homa, and it almost did.
It took a birdie on the 18th hole on Sunday to win the Genesis Invitational and hit a back pin that settled 3 feet away with a sand wedge. With that, he set up the storybook finish for a man who grew up 30 miles away and who watched that tournament all his life.
With his ball next to the base of a tree to the left of the 10th green in the first playoff hole, Homa covered a riving knife with enough top spin to push the Kikuyu grass onto the edge of the green and set par. Tony Finau missed a 7 foot and Homa was happy just to get to the next hole.
Homa won on the second additional hole when Finau failed to save par from a bunker and missed a 10-foot putt.
The message from tournament director Tiger Woods at the trophy presentation: way to stay there.
“I don’t know if I could ever do something cooler in golf,” said Homa, who finished on a 5-under-66 and played his last 26 holes on the Riviera without a bogey. “Tiger Woods is giving us a trophy – that’s a pretty crazy thought. We grew up idolizing him, idolizing the Riviera Country Club, idolizing the golf tournament. To make it through, it’s almost shocking.
“It feels like it just can’t be beaten for me.”
It has been more heartbreak for Finau, who has 10 runners-up worldwide since winning the Puerto Rico Open five years ago. He finished with a 7-under-64, the best score of the finals. He had a 7-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole for the win and left it on the low side. He watched someone celebrate again. And he held up his chin.
“It’s bittersweet to be back in this position,” said Finau. “But I never get tired of playing good golf, and I tell myself that every week.”
Homa, who joined Finau when he was 12 under 272, won for the second time on the PGA Tour. With 38th place he cracked the top 50 in the world for the first time. The win sends him back to the Masters along with the next three golf world championships.
All of that felt secondary. He was on the Riviera, just like when he was a kid when he ate soft pretzels and saw the best. Only this time he held the trophy.
“I think I would have had a hard time dreaming this when I was young,” said Homa.
He was having a hard time with his feelings and held back tears right after winning until he stopped and said, “Wow. I didn’t think it would be like that. “
“The city of champions – Dodgers, Lakers, me now,” Homa said. “It’s a strange feeling.”
So long the tournament belonged to Sam Burns. He was on the verge of becoming the first player to go from wire to wire on the Riviera since Hal Sutton won the PGA Championship in 1983. But it fell apart with three bogeys in a four-hole section on the back nine, and he closed on a 69 to end a shot from the playoffs.
“Just not played well enough,” said Burns. “I didn’t ride well enough to really score the last seven holes.”
That set the Hollywood finish for Homa until it felt like a horror movie when he missed the short birdie putt.
“You shouldn’t miss a 3-foot boat off Tiger Woods,” he said. “To be honest, I was just a little nervous. This tournament means a lot to me. “
A call from his wife calmed him down. She leaves him random messages – some he said others didn’t make a lot of sense, but he still likes them – and this one hit the spot. One of the most important things was to quickly forgive mistakes. There weren’t many except for the one at the end.
“I called her after I signed my card and said, ‘I think I was choking a little.’ And I laughed, “said Homa.” She said, ‘No, you played great, don’t worry and don’t forget to forgive quickly.’ “
After a nervous moment on the 10th, redemption came.
Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in golf, started the final round two strokes behind and in the final group. He missed a slight birdie chance on the opening hole and it never got much better. Johnson failed to run and fell back along the back nine with careless bogies. He shot 72 and finished eighth.
Burns stabilized on Sunday morning with two large par putts from the 10-foot range – 14th to dodge a third bogey in a row, and 18th hole for a 74 that gave him a two-shot lead.
The third round ended on Sunday morning due to a four hour delay from wind that was so strong on such a fixed course that the average score was 73.34. This was the highest ever for a weekend round on the Riviera since the PGA tour began in 1983.
Jordan Spieth never got anything going either. Spieth had two top five finishes behind him to change his fate. He was five shots behind the finals and only managed a 71 for 15th place. In 61st place in the world, however, he is no longer qualified for a golf world championship for the first time since his membership in the PGA Tour.
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