CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Two years after Max Homa played only one Sunday in an entire PGA TOUR season, he showed his mettle at Quail Hollow by closing with a 4-under 67 to pull away from the field and win the Wells Fargo Championship.
Homa began the back nine with two birdies to build a four-shot lead and didn’t make any mistakes until it only affected the final margin.
Joel Dahmen saved par with a tough chip over the creek for a 70 and finished three shots behind.
Homa, who won the NCAA title at Cal in 2013, won for the first time in his 68th start as a pro. The victory gets him into the PGA Championship in two weeks at Bethpage Black and the Masters next April.
But what a turnaround for the 28-year-old Californian.
Homa was at No. 829 in the world when he got his third crack at the PGA TOUR in October. Two seasons ago, he made only two cuts in 17 tournaments, missing the 54-hole cut in one of them and finishing last at an opposite-field event in the other.
But he made six of seven cuts coming into Quail Hollow, and played like he belonged.
“Confidence takes a lot of anxiety away,” he said Saturday night as he prepared to play in the final group for the first time.
Homa never flinched, effectively sealing it with a long shot up the hill and onto the green at the par-5 15th for a two-putt birdie, saving par to keep a three-shot lead going to the final hole and drilling his tee shot down the fairway. He wrapped it up with a 10-foot par putt to finish at 15-under 269.
“Over the moon, man,” he said before going to sign his card. “It means a lot to do it under pressure, and job security is great. I haven’t had that.”
The victory was worth $1,422,000 — about $454,000 more than he had made in his previous 67 starts — and gives him a two-year exemption, along with a tee time at Bethpage Black in two weeks. The only other major Homa played was the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, a month after his NCAA title.
Dahmen held his own until costly bogeys around the turn. But that chip was on the 18th for par to finish alone in second meant a difference of $158,000.
“I didn’t beat myself today, which was kind of the goal,” Dahmen said. “Max is playing awesome. He’s a good friend. I think we’re going to celebrate tonight.”
Justin Rose (68) finished alone in third and moved ahead of Brooks Koepka to No. 2 in the world.
Rory McIlroy was primed to join Tom Weiskopf as the only three-time winners at Quail Hollow, starting the final round two shots behind. He never got anything going until it went the wrong way. He turned a 20-foot eagle attempt into a three-putt par on the par-5 seventh, failed to get up-and-down on the reachable eighth for a birdie, and then went bogey-double bogey around the turn to take himself out of the mix.
No one else was much of a threat either, just two guys who had never come remotely close to winning on the PGA TOUR.
Former PGA champion Jason Dufner, part of the three-way tie for the lead to start the final round, made consecutive bogeys early and had no bearing on the final round. A double bogey on the 18th gave him a 73 and dropped him into a tie for fourth.
Rose pulled within two shots with a birdie on the par-5 10th, only to settle into a series of pars. By the time Sergio Garcia reached double digits under par, Homa was well on his way.
Homa and Dahmen were at 13 under until Dahmen blinked first. He found a fairway bunker on No. 9, couldn’t get to the green and made bogey, and then missed a 12-foot birdie chance on the 10th. Homa, playing behind him in the final group, holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 10th for a two-shot lead, made birdie from the left rough on the 11th with a 12-foot putt and escaped more trouble off the tee on the 12th with a two-putt from 80 feet.
“Well done,” his caddie, Joe Greiner, told him when he hit a solid 6-footer to complete the par.
After a one-hour delay from storms, Homa returned to hole a 6-foot par putt on the 14th and was steady down the stretch, just as he had been all day.
Homa became the fifth player to make Quail Hollow his first PGA TOUR victory, joining Anthony Kim (2008), McIlroy (2010), Rickie Fowler (2012) and Derek Ernst (2013).