His screen name was ‘next Tiger Woods.’ Now he’s leading the Masters.

max homa and tiger woods shake hands at the Masters on Friday

Max Homa and Tiger Woods shared a grouping on Thursday and Friday at the Masters.

Darren Riehl/GOLF

AUGUSTA, Ga. — There are not many golfers like your 36-hole Masters co-leader, Max Homa.

And only seconds into his post-round presser Friday evening, he shows how.

“I wrote something in my journal yesterday,” Homa says, eyes focused, voice gentle. “It said ‘however good I am is however good I am.’ I don’t need to try to be better than I am, and just see where that takes me. Maybe it’s winning this and maybe it’s not, and I’m okay with that. I know what I put into this game, trying to get every ounce back doesn’t really work. I’ve tried that part.”

These are not the words of any other elite player alive right now. These words are raw and tender, revealing in their honesty. They are the sort of words Homa says all the time, repeated like a mantra. What’s different is that he’s saying them now, two days into what may be the Masters week that changes his life. They tell us how far he’s come, and they may also tell us where he’s headed.

By now you know the story. Homa was a prodigious talent from a young age, a player so good who progressed so fast that he reached the pros without fully developing his killer instinct. Tour life came and nearly left him behind, but Homa’s instinct sharpened after early setbacks and he found a path back to the top. The wins came in a trickle and then at a torrent. Quail Hollow, Riviera, an invite to the Ryder Cup. Homa was living every golfer’s dream. Still, the majors remained out of grasp.

That last part was a challenge for Homa, a guy whose cocky and wide-eyed younger self had set a lifetime goal in the form of an AIM screen name: NextTigerWoods59.

“Oh, it was not good,” he says now with a sheepish smile. “I met so many girls off that.”

We won’t hold Homa, 33, to those expectations. But we will hold him to what his younger self meant by them. Woods, now 47, is perhaps the greatest golfer who has ever lived. And Homa wanted to be just like him. That’s a revealing truth, and his last four years of major disappointments — which have featured only one top-10 — explain why.

The truth is that Max Homa could hardly be more different than Tiger Woods. Their personalities are stark contrasts. Woods is prone to presenting like the Terminator: cold, unyielding, robotic; while Homa is so open and introspective he could moonlight as a therapist. On the course, Tiger made a living off of appearing like his victories were inevitabilities; Max’s wins feel more like riding a motorcycle off a cliff.

And yet there they were on Masters Friday, on their 36th hole together at Augusta National, the golf gods — and the green jackets — having paired the two, along with Jason Day, for an early-week grouping. Homa has played with Woods in a major once before, during Woods’ swan song at the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 2022, but a lot has changed since then. Woods has struggled under the weight of injury and age, while Homa has blossomed in his thirties into one of the game’s clutchest players.

In a strange twist, NextTigerWoods59 entered Masters week with better odds of winning than … the real Tiger Woods. And after two days at Augusta National, the scoreboard agrees. Homa is 6 under for the tournament, tied for the 36-hole lead, while Woods is 1 over, tied for 22nd. The pressure of playing with the real Tiger Woods, and the extremely real crowds that follow him, was evidently not too much for Homa. In fact, he says, it wasn’t on his mind at all.

“I would argue [the crowds] block me and Jason out. So it’s actually quite easy,” he said. “I imagine would I have felt more pressure in a way had I not been playing with Tiger. So I actually think that was a good thing.”

And how, exactly, would playing without Tiger have meant more pressure?

“When you play with Tiger, they are all for Tiger,” he says with a grin. “It’s easy to just to stay in your own world and not get on your high horse. I think it keeps you within yourself.”

Max might not have Tiger’s swing or his stare or his stalk, but he has some of his swagger. On Thursday afternoon, a testy 8-foot birdie on the 13th results in a walk-in fist pump. On Friday afternoon, a massive par save on the 18th practically bisects the hole.

These are the types of moments that Homa has made routine over the last two years, and the type that anyone with a prayer of surviving the weekend at Augusta National needs in spades. These are moments borne from confidence, and moments that lend themselves to ego. For Homa, though, the latter still hasn’t set in.

“The sentimental answer [of my favorite moment] is the walk up to 12 tee. Tiger was last to walk up,” he says. “I understand that people are supporting me, but when you walk up to the 12th tee, it’s one of the coolest walks there is. Everyone cheers, but you know they’re waiting for him.”

Question: How many golfers in the world can hold the 36-hole lead at the Masters and name another player’s moment as one of their favorites of the tournament?

Follow up: How many are willing to do it twice?

“On 18, we had sandblasts for 45 seconds, and I turned around five times so I didn’t get crushed in the face. [Tiger’s] standing there like a statue, and then he poured [his putt] right in the middle,” Homa said. “All the old stories you hear about how he’ll grind it out, it was fun to see that in person.”

Answer: Maybe only one. It just so happens that he’s the one leading the tournament.

“It will probably feel different, but I’m very fortunate,” he says, grinning, when asked about the pressure of the 36-hole lead. “I have a wife that does not let me gloat, and I have friends back at the house that will just want to hear about what Tiger did today. I’m surrounded by some awesome people.”

These are not the words we’ve come to expect from the current Tiger Woods. And they may not be the words of the next Tiger Woods. But on Friday evening at the Masters, they’re the words of the guy who figured out that Tiger Woods’ superpower was never the boring facade or stoic demeanor but rather the ability to play to his own strengths with every swing. In that way, Max Homa and Tiger Woods aren’t so different at all.

“I don’t know if you guys have seen Hoosiers, but the hole is the same size — and there’s 18 of them,” Homa said Friday. “I’m just going to try to do my best.”

However good is however good for Max Homa. And at this Masters, that might just be good enough.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.