2023 Fortinet Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
THEY have had a short break but now the PGA Tour resumes again, with Max Homa looking to win the Fortinet Championship for the third year on the trot.
Homa has, of course, qualified for the US Ryder Cup team and will be looking to find his best form ahead of the trip to Marco Simone near Rome at the end of the month.
Twelve months ago Homa pitched in from 33 feet at the final hole while England’s Danny Willett three-putted from nowhere. And suddenly, with that birdie-bogey exchange at the par-5 finishing hole at Silverado Resort & Spa, Homa had successfully defended his Fortinet Championship title.
“It was crazy,” he said after a final-round 68 that secured his fifth PGA Tour victory by a shot over a devastated Willett. “I still don’t really know what happened. It was one of those weekends you just had to hang around.”
For most of the final round at a wet Silverado it looked like Homa would finish second. He had hit his second shot into the front bunker on the 18th while Willett knocked his approach tight. It looked like Willett was a shoo-in.
Willett, 34, was closing in on his first Tour title since the 2016 Masters and when Homa’s bunker shot failed to find the putting surface the tournament looked over.
Homa said: “I kind of had to assume he was going to make it and I went for the hero bunker shot and didn't quite catch it.” Instead he chipped in from 33 feet. Willett was a tad over three feet away for a birdie that would still give him the trophy. “I hit it far too hard,” he said of his birdie try, which flew by the hole and left him a longer putt for par, from 4 feet, 8 inches. “And on the way back … I thought it was straighter. Again, yeah, just ended up tailing off and missing left.
“It was a very disappointing way to finish,but you know, first out of the season, like I said, to be in contention, things are in a good place. We live to fight another day.”
The only time that Homa led was when he walked off the final green.
Also in the field this week is Justin Thomas, a man with a point to prove. He is a controversial wild-card pick for the Ryder Cup after a dismal season during which he finished the regular campaign 71st in the FedEx Cup standings, failing to win a tournament for the first time since joining the PGA Tour and failing to make it to the FedEx playoffs, also for the first time in his career. He has struggled with almost every part of his game in 2022 and will be desperate for a confidence-building performance here.
If Thomas had a poor season, it is as nothing when compared with Webb Simpson, who is also in the field. He finished the regular season in 136th place in the FedEx Cup standings and his world ranking has now tumbled to 161. The 38-year-old is a seven-time winner and a former US Open champion. Simpson remains a superb ball striker but he has struggled horribly on the greens in recent years and will desperately be looking for a change in fortunes this week.
Sahith Theegala is a different kettle of fish. He would have started the season believing he had a great chance of making Zach Johnson’s team as he sought to record his first PGA Tour win. It didn’t happen but Theegala made a fine start, finishing tied sixth at the Fortinet, tied fifth at the Zozo, tied second at the RSM Classic, tied fourth at the Farmers Insurance Open, tied sixth at the Genesis, ninth at The Masters and tied fifth at the RBC Heritage. But the second half of the campaign was disappointing. He missed three cuts in a row at the Scottish Open, The Open and 3M Open and then failed to make it to the Tour Championship, finishing the season in 31st place in the FedEx Cup standings and 35th in the world rankings.
It is a rare thing indeed for somebody to win a tournament three times on the bounce but Max Homa loves Silverado, is in form and on a high as he prepares for the Ryder Cup. He is the man to beat. And you can also be certain that Justin Thomas has been working his socks off to find his best form, so don’t be surprised to see him in contention.
It was won in 2015 by Sangmoon Bae, in 2016 by Emiliano Grillo, in 2017 and 2018 by Brendan Steele, in 2019 by Kevin Tway, in 2020 by Cameron Champ and in 2021 and 2022 by Max Homa.
Silverado’s North Course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr and remodelled by Johnny Miller in 2011. It is a par 72 measuring 7,166 yards. It is tree lined and features some water hazards, but the fairways are generous and the rough is hardly what you would describe as punishing.
Max Homa: Adores this place
Justin Thomas. Has a point to prove
Sahith Theegala. Brilliant ball striker
Five to Follow:
Max Homa. Has no weaknesses
Justin Thomas. Looking to silence the critics
Sahith Theegala. First win can’t be far away
Cameron Champ. Looking to find his way back
Akshay Bhatia. Tremendous prospect
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