Planet Golf — 19 February 2021 by GW staff and news services
Homa beats Finau in Genesis playoff

LOS ANGELES — Winning at Riviera was always a dream for Max Homa since he first attended the PGA TOUR event as a toddler. He never could have scripted a finish like Sunday at The Genesis Invitational.

Homa missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for the win. On the first playoff hole, he appeared to have no chance when his tee shot settled inches from a tree. He somehow escaped to extend the playoff, and won it on the next hole when hard-luck Tony Finau failed to save par from a bunker on the par-3 14th.

As much of a heartbreak as it was for Finau — his 10th runner-up finish worldwide since his lone victory in the Puerto Rico Open five years ago — the emotion was too much for Homa.

He grew up 30 miles away in Valencia. He grew up idolizing Tiger Woods, the tournament host who presented him the trophy. He nearly threw it away with a 3-foot putt. And he walked off with his second PGA TOUR victory.

“I’ve been watching this tournament my whole life,” Homa said, choking back emotions before he said, “Wow. I didn’t think it would be like this. … The city of Champions — Dodgers, Lakers, me now. It’s a weird feeling.”

Homa not only closed with a 5-under 66, he played the final 26 holes without a bogey.

This looked to be a storybook finish for Homa when Sam Burns, who had led from the opening round, ran into a string of bogeys on the back nine.

It came down to Homa and Finau, who saved par on the 18th for a 64, the low round of the weekend. Homa made a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-5 17th to tie for the lead, and he stuffed his approach on the 18th for what looked to be a sure birdie.

And then he missed.

“You’re not supposed to miss a 3-footer in front of Tiger Woods,” Homa said. “I saw him yesterday and was too scared to talk to him. But he’s forced to talk to me now.”

Worse yet was his tee shot on the 10th. Homa managed to hood a wedge and scoot it up the slope to the edge of the green, and with a front left pin — typically the Saturday position, changed this year because of the wind — it left him 12 feet away. He narrowly missed. Finau, in great position, chipped to 7 feet and with his shadow over the cup, hit it too weakly.

The victory allowed Homa to crack the top 50 in the world for the first time, making him eligible for the World Golf Championships-Workday Championship at The Concession next week and get him back to the Masters.

Burns closed with a 69 and missed the playoff by one shot.

Homa and Finau finished at 12-under 272 on a Riviera course that was fast, firm and bouncy all week, and was never more difficult than Saturday in 35 mph that led to play being halted.

Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in golf, started the final round two shots behind and in the final group. He missed an easy birdie chance on the opening hole and it never got much better. Johnson failed to make a run and fell back with careless bogeys along the back nine. He shot 72 and tied for eighth.

Burns steadied himself Sunday morning with two big par putts from the 10-foot range — on No. 14 to avoid a third straight bogey and on the 18th hole for a 74 that gave him a two-shot lead.

The third round was completed Sunday morning because of a four-hour delay from wind so strong on a course so firm that the average score was 73.34, the highest ever for a weekend round at Riviera since the PGA TOUR began keeping such statistics in 1983.

The final round was far more gentle, and Burns appeared to have control when he went out in 31, saved par with a 10-foot putt on No. 10 and kept everyone at least two shots behind.

But it flipped on the crucial stretch of Riviera, the 12th through the 15th holes, four of the five toughest scoring holes in the final round. Burns caught a break when his tee shot on No. 12 headed left and out-of-bounds hit a tree and landed in the rough, though he made bogey. He dropped shots on the 14th and 15th holes and suddenly trailed for the first time since Thursday afternoon.

Needing a birdie on the final hole to join the playoff, he missed the fairway and went just over the green.

Jordan Spieth never got anything going, either. Coming off a pair of top-five finishes to turn his fortunes around, Spieth was five shots behind going into the final round and could only manage a 71 to tie for 15th.

THIRD ROUND

LOS ANGELES — The wind stopped Sam Burns right when he was about to get started with a five-shot lead Saturday at the Genesis Invitational. Darkness stopped him right after two straight bogeys narrowed his lead to two.

Thus ended a wild afternoon at Riviera, where the wind was raging so strong that it blew Keegan Bradley’s putt off the green at No. 10 and nearly blew Max Homa’s shot into the hole at the par-5 first.

A four-hour delay didn’t make Riviera any easier.

Burns, the 24-year-old from Louisiana, went 31 consecutive holes without a bogey and kept Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and everyone else at a distance. When the streak ended on No. 8, it was the start of three inevitable bogeys over six holes.

“It’s a hard course with no wind,” Burns said.

He was at 10-under par through 13 holes, two shots ahead of Matt Fitzpatrick, who had a most bizarre round by going 10 consecutive holes without a par — six birdies, four bogeys.

Johnson, Homa and Wyndham Clark were at 7 under, with Patrick Cantlay another shot behind. The third round was set to be completed Sunday morning ahead of the final 18 holes.

Tiger Woods showed up right about the time play was halted. Woods is the tournament host who is not playing as he recovers from a fifth back surgery.

The wind was blowing golf balls on the green, and then the PGA Tour said a piece of communications equipment toppled near the 14th tee and they brought everyone in.

Not much changed with the wind when they resumed. Everyone was dropping shots and hanging on for dear life.

Johnson had three bogeys against three birdies and was only three shots behind. The greens were so firm, the wind whipping so hard, that even from 99 yards away on the 13th hole he landed the ball some 50 feet short and hoped it rolled out enough to give him a chance.

Spieth opened with two birdies, including a 40-footer on the third hole. But he hit two fairway bunkers on the seventh and eighth holes that led to bogey, missed a 3-footer on the 12th and his chip on the 15th was a little firm, and with the wind and slope it rolled out some 40 feet. He dropped six shots behind.

For so much of the day, Burns looked impervious to it all. He opened with a steady dose of pars, including one amazing escape on the par-3 sixth, where his tee shot was close to a boundary fence. He played it into the rough and onto the back of the green, and the ball rolled down to 3 feet.

But he missed an 18-foot par putt on No. 8, ending his streak of bogey-free holes. Burns missed a short birdie on the ninth, hit a superb bunker shot for a tap-in birdie on the 10th and stretched his lead back to five shots.

It all changed so quickly.

He three-putted from 50 feet on the 12th. And then his wedge on the 13th was far enough left that it caught a ridge and rolled down a bank into the rough. He chipped to 6 feet and missed the par putt.

That’s when play was stopped.

Fitzpatrick made a 20-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to reach 8 under, and suddenly was two shots behind. Fitzpatrick was at 3 under for the day through 17 holes, the low score of the round so far.

Only 12 other players were under par for their rounds, none better than 2 under The average score when play was suspended was 73.3.

Second Round

LOS ANGELES — Sam Burns wanted to pay respect to tough Riviera by playing it safe. It led to a 5-under 66 on Friday to tie the 36-hole record at the Genesis Invitational and build a five-shot lead going into the weekend.

Among those chasing is Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world and a past winner at Riviera. Another shot back was Jordan Spieth, who is starting to make himself at home near the top of the leaderboard.

Burns kept his bogey-free day intact toward the end of the round when he came up short of the eighth green, his 17th of the morning. He chipped it about 10 feet short — anything too strong could lead to big trouble — and made the par putt.

He also handled two of the par 5s, and picked up so much roll on the firm turf at the 476-yard 12th hole that he had only a pitching wedge into the green and made a 5-foot putt.

“Whenever we were kind of in a tricky spot, just kind of took what the golf course gave us,” Burns said. “There’s definitely times where I’ve tried to force it a little bit, but this just is not a golf course you want to do that.”

Burns was at 12-under 130, matching the record last set in 2004 by Mike Weir and Shigeki Maruyama.

Johnson led a group at 7-under 135 despite playing the three par 5s in only 1 under for the week. Part of the problem is that Johnson has hit only one fairway on the par 5s. That was the final one he played Friday, the 17th, and it set up a simple up-and-down that moved him a little closer.

He also has a simple solution to improve his par-5 performance.

“Drive it in the fairway,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing really well. Just need to get a little bit more out of the rounds.”

Joaquin Niemann finished with eight pars for his round of 68 and was five shots behind. He and Johnson were joined by Tyler McCumber and Jason Kokrak, who each shot 68 in the morning.

McCumber is the miracle worker this week. His finger got caught trying to open a window is his hotel room Tuesday, and his best option was for a doctor to remove the nail on his left index finger. He did that Wednesday, hit about five balls and figured he could give it a shot.

“It’s pretty wild how quickly the body does adapt to things,” McCumber said. “I thought it was a little better today just to focus on the golf and not really worry about the finger.”

Riviera injured some of the games best players.

Rory McIlroy made only one birdie in his round of 76 and missed the cut. Justin Thomas followed his opening 77 with a 73 and missed the cut. So did U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau after a 69.

McIlroy had the PGA Tour’s longest active cut streak at 25 events dating to the 2019 British Open at Royal Portrush. The streak now belongs to Xander Schauffele at 22.

Burns is a 24-year-old from LSU has what it takes win when it falls into place. He tied for sixth at the Barbasol Championship when he was still an amateur, and it took him only one year on the Korn Ferry Tour before he was in the big leagues. Not its’ a matter of breaking through, and he’s off to a strong start at Riviera.

“I’d like to think that I have all the tools to win out here,” Burns said. “There’s a lot of good players — really, really good players. I try not to get caught up in that and just trying to get better each week.”

Riviera is playing fast and difficult this year with such beautiful weather and occasional gusts of wind. Aside from Burns and his great play over 36 holes, no one else was better than 7-under par.

Ten players in the 120-man field had two rounds in the 60s while playing in ideal weather.

“It’s one of those rare weeks where you can’t get away with firing at flagsticks,” Spieth said. “There’s not much rough, but when you get in the rough it takes the spin off enough to where you can’t get into pins. A lot of times when you miss the greens, it’s harder to get it closer than where you could have hit your approach.

“It’s such a different experience from what we normally have on tour.”

Spieth was three shots behind going into the weekend in the Phoenix Open, shot 61 and shared the 54-hole lead. He tied for fourth. Last week at Pebble Beach, he had a one-shot lead after 36 holes and led by two going into the final round before tying for third.

Now he’s six shots behind Burns, but in reasonable position on the leaderboard. It’s an upward trend.

“It’s not like you can go chase people on this golf course,” Spieth said. “So I’m happy with where I’m at, but just eliminate a couple of the minor mistakes here and there and try to keep clean cards on the weekend and let the rest of it take care of itself.”

First Round

LOS ANGELES — Sam Burns had the ideal start at The Riviera Country Club. His finish was even better.

Burns opened with an 18-foot eagle putt and closed with three straight birdies Thursday in The Genesis Invitational, giving him a 7-under 64, the third time this season he has shot 64 in the opening round.

The 24-year-old Burns is still looking for his first PGA TOUR victory. On one of the best courses of the year, against another stacked field, it was a good first step.

“This golf course at times doesn’t offer you a lot of opportunities,” Burns said. “So I think just with that mindset going in we were just going to take what we could get.”

He had a two-shot lead over Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homa, who grew up 30 miles away in Valencia and used to attend the PGA TOUR event at Riviera as a kid.

Patrick Cantlay, coming off chances to win in Palm Springs and Pebble Beach, extended his run of good play with four birdies on his back nine and was in a large group at 67.

Dustin Johnson, who has played Riviera as consistently well as anyone over the last 10 years, couldn’t take advantage of the par 5s and still scrapped his way around to a 68, mainly by taking five putts over the last six holes.

“You can’t ask for a course in better shape,” said Johnson. “The greens are perfect. It’s firm and fast. This golf course plays really difficult when it’s firm and fast. You have to be in the right position or you’ve got no chance.”

Also at 68 were Brooks Koepka, coming off a victory two weeks ago in Phoenix, and Jordan Spieth, who had at least a share of the 54-hole lead the last two weeks as he tries to end a slump that dates to the 2017 Open Championship.

Riviera has a reputation of playing tough even as the game evolves. The 72-hole record, 20-under 264 that Lanny Wadkins set in 1985, has stood the longest of any PGA TOUR event.

It was tough enough for Justin Thomas, wo opened with a 77 despite birdies on two of his last three holes. Thomas also had three double bogeys, two of them when he three-putted from inside 6 feet (one was a four-putt).

Bryson DeChambeau had a 75.

Tae Hoon Kim, who won the Genesis Championship on the Korean PGA last fall to earn an exemption, had the wildest day of all. He started by laying up on the short par-4 10th, which proved a smart play with such firm conditions, and made it pay off with a 10-foot birdie. He holed a bunker shot next to the green on the par-5 11th for eagle.

Kim made another eagle with a hole-in-one on the 16th hole. He had another eagle attempt from 40 feet on the fringe at the par-5 first, just missing for a tap-in birdie to reach 5 under.

And then he dropped four shots on his next three holes and wound up with a 69.

Burns kept a steady hand, dropping shots only on the par-3 sixth when he came up short of a front pin, and at the tough 12th hole into a stiffening afternoon breeze when he found a front bunker.

He made enough birdies in the middle of his round to atone for a few mistakes. And mistakes were never too hard to find.

“It was one of those days where it’s just as easy to shoot 2 or 3 under as it is to shoot 2 or 3 over,” said Rory McIlroy, who had to settle for the latter after a 73. “There’s a couple of good scores out there, but you didn’t have to do too much wrong to be hovering around even par and be on the other side of it.”

Fitzpatrick holed a 45-foot birdie putt on the par-3 14th, made birdie on the next par 3 at the 16th and after making the turn, holed a 25-foot eagle putt on No. 1, which has yielded more eagles than any par 5 on TOUR since 2004.

“It’s a great start, couldn’t ask for any better,” Fitzpatrick said. “I feel like I struggle a little bit on poa annua, so to see them how they are this week, so firm and fast, they’re as true as I’ve ever seen. It’s a big advantage of me.”

The 10th hole, among the best short par 4s in America, created plenty of challenges. In the morning, Cantlay missed his target by 2 yards and was in just a bad spot that he played some 60 feet away from the flag. In the morning, Spieth thought he was in a good spot until he saw a palm tree in his way.

Going to the right was dangerous. So was going to the left. He thought about going under a tree. Ultimately, he went left and pulled it off to perfect. “Couldn’t do that again with a bucket of balls,” he told his caddie.

“The shot of the day for me,” Spieth said. “That could have easily been a 5 and it turned out to be a 3.”

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