Charlotte, N.C. — Max Homa traded in a shovel for a ladder to get places he always thought he could reach.
Two years ago in his second try on the PGA Tour, he made only two cuts the entire season and played only one round on a Sunday. Eight months ago, he was on the verge of going back to Q-school and an uncertain future until closing with four straight birdies to make the cut in a Web.com Tour event that gave him another shot at the big leagues.
It made Sunday all that much sweeter in the Wells Fargo Championship.
In a three-way tie for the lead, in the final group on the PGA Tour for the first time, with Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia right behind him, Homa outplayed them all with a 4-under 67 for a three-shot victory at Quail Hollow and his first PGA Tour title.
“I used to say when I hit rock bottom I found a shovel and kept digging. I went to some low, low places,” he said. “I’d use a shovel and dig deeper. I went to some low, low places. I realized in that year or two when I started to play bad that my attitude was going to have to get a lot better. … I’m very proud I finally found a ladder and started climbing, because it was getting dark down there.”
Suddenly, the immediate future is bright as can be.
He has a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a tee time at the PGA Championship in two weeks at Bethpage Black and a spot in the Masters next year.
A former NCAA champion at Cal, Homa has “Relentless” in block letters tattooed on his right forearm. The 28-year-old Californian also has a signed photo from former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who once told him to look at the picture and be reminded to believe in himself.
The trophy at his side, Homa’s press conference was interrupted for him to take a call from the 91-year-old Lasorda.
“I guess my whole world is different,” he said.
Golf felt so hard for Homa for so many years after he left Cal, and then he made it look so easy in a final round that made him so nervous he wanted to throw up, except when he had his hands on a golf club. He pulled away with two birdies to start the back nine for a four-shot lead. He didn’t make a bogey until it only affected the final margin. But it was a one-hour rain delay that tested Homa the most.
He was leading by three when he nearly went in the water on the 14th hole and chipped up to 6 feet when the horn sounded to stop play. With time he didn’t need on his hands, he called his fiancée and his coach and can’t remember what either of them said.
And then he returned and buried the putt.
“I knew in the back of my mind if I made that putt, I win this golf tournament,” he said.
Joel Dahmen, who pushed Homa as hard as any major champion, saved par with a tough chip over the creek for a 70 and finished three shots behind.
“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.”
Homa effectively sealed it with a perfect play to the green on the par-5 15th for a two-putt birdie, and a 10-foot par putt on the 17th to keep a three-shot leading playing the tough closing hole at Quail Hollow. He made a 10-foot par there, too, and the celebration was on.
Homa finished 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.
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 dropped another shot on the 11th. 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.
He survived the rain delay, the nervy finish.
Homa has endured a lot more than that over the last few years.
At Daly City, Calif., Sei Young Kim overcame a rough start to win the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship at cold and windy Lake Merced, outlasting Bronte Law and Jeongeun Lee6 with a birdie on the first hole of a playoff.
Three strokes ahead entering the day, Kim opened with a double bogey and a bogey and dropped another stroke on No. 8. The 26-year-old South Korean birdied the par-5 15th to regain a share of the lead, dropped back with a bogey on the par-3 17th and birdied the par-5 18th for a 3-over 75 and a spot in the playoff at 7-under 281.
Law closed with a 65, finishing more than two hours before Kim, and Lee6 had a 67.
Kim won for the eighth time on the LPGA Tour, improving to 4-0 in playoffs. She nearly retraced her regulation path on the 18th in the playoff, almost driving into her own divot and hitting another 4-iron from 199 yards a foot closer than before onto the front right fringe.
Law left her approach short and right and pitched to 6 feet. Lee6’s approach bounced into the middle of the green, leaving her a 40-foot eagle putt that she hit 6 feet past. After Kim putted to 2 feet, Law missed her birdie putt to the right, and Lee6’s try went left. Kim then ended it.
Law, the 24-year-old former UCLA star from England, missed a chance to tie the LPGA Tour record for the largest comeback at 10 strokes. She made five birdies in a six-hole stretch in the middle of the round and reached 7 under with a 4-wood to 4 feet for eagle on No. 15.
Lee6 played the final four holes in regulation in 4 under, holing a 12-footer for eagle on 15 and making birdies on 16 and 18. The 22-year-old South Korean has the number in her name because she was the sixth player with the name on the Korean LPGA. She has embraced the number, answering to it and writing a large “6’’ on her balls. Her South Korean fan club is called “Lucky 6.” Jeongeun Lee5 also plays the LPGA Tour.
Scott McCarron won the Insperity Invitational for his 10th PGA Tour Champions victory and second in three weeks.
The 53-year-old McCarron held off Scott Parel by two strokes, closing with a 5-under 67 to finish at 17-under 199 and match Fred Couples (2010) for the best score since the event moved to The Woodlands Country Club in 2008.
McCarron won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic two weeks ago in Georgia, then teamed with Brandt Jobe to tie for fifth last week in Missouri in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf. The former UCLA player who won three times on the PGA Tour.
Parel shot a 66. He also finished second last month in Mississippi, losing to Kevin Sutherland on the seventh hole of a playoff.
After Parel birdied the par-5 15th to pull within a stroke, McCarron hit a 6-iron to a foot for birdie on the par-3 16th to push the advantage back to two shots. Parel missed a chance to pull within one on the par-4 17th when his 3-foot birdie putt caught the left edge and lipped out.
Both players parred the par-4 18th, with Parel forced to scramble after driving well left off a cart path and nearly into a garbage basket.
McCarron took a three-stroke lead into the final round, overcoming a stiff neck to shoot 67-65 in a 34 1/2-hole Saturday after most of the play Friday was wiped out because of lightning and heavy rain.
McCarron earned $330,000 and increased his lead in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup standings.
At Shenzhen, China, Mikko Korhonen of Finland overcame a three-shot deficit with a 6-under 66 and beat Benjamin Hebert in a playoff with an 8-foot birdie putt in the Volvo China Open.
The victory moves Korhonen into the top 100 in the world and is likely to earn another trip to the PGA Championship in New York.
Two shots behind at the turn, Korhonen birdied two straight holes to catch Hebert, and Hebert had to birdie the last at Genzon Golf Club for a 69 to force the playoff. They finished at 20-under 268.
Korhonen won for the second straight year on the European Tour. He won last year at the Shot Clock Masters.
Jorge Campillo of Spain, coming off a victory last week in Morocco, shot a 67 and missed the playoff by one shot.
China’s Kuang Yang closed with a 73 to tie for 55th. He was the second-youngest player (14 years, 6 months, 12 days) to make the cut in in a European Tour event. The record belongs to Guan Tianglang, who was a month younger when he made the cut in the 2013 Masters.