How this rare benefit helped Max Homa hit one of the clutchest shots of his life

Max Homa had the small advantage of placing his ball before this pressure-packed chip shot.

PGA Tour

Preferred lies aren’t common on the PGA Tour, but they are employed, certainly far more commonly than they are in the majors. The final round at the Fortinet Championship Sunday was just such an instance. Due to heavy rain in the Napa, Calif., area, the Tour decided to allow the players to lift, clean and place their balls in closely mown areas.

Enter the lie Max Homa encountered with his fourth shot on the 72nd hole: a nervy, short-sided chip off a runoff area to a green running away from him. Nightmare stuff.

Two back of then-leader Danny Willett, who was staring down a birdie putt of less than 4 feet, Homa had one goal for his 30-foot birdie chip: send it to its home. When nothing less than a perfectly nipped shot will do, the lie is crucial. And here, Homa had the local rules in his corner.  

“Lift, clean and place,” Homa said Sunday evening. “I got to kind of pick my lie.”

Homa picked up his ball, wiped it clean and carefully placed it back down on a slight upslope.

It was a pressure-packed moment, but Homa, who had won four times previously on Tour, said he felt in control of his nerves, later adding that “I just had this calmness about me. I actually didn’t feel quite as nervous as I have before. I think experience has helped a bit in some of these wins.” That said, the shot was still a killer. “It was dead,” Homa said. “I mean, it was as short-sided as you could be. You couldn’t really stop it.” Well, unless you jarred it. At the very least, Homa now had a tasty lie from which to operate.

The contact was something close to perfect.

“It just felt like the whole week kind of hadn’t really gotten any, like, serious luck, and I clipped the pitch really good,” Homa said. “I spun it and once it hit the pin, it was almost like it spun straight into the ground. It was just one of those things.”

Willett, who grinned broadly after the ball dropped, looked some combination of amused and stunned, but probably more of the latter. “I expected him to do it,” Willett said, “but then it’s still a bit of a shock when it happens.”

An even bigger shock was still to come: Willett missed his birdie try from 3 feet, 7 inches and also his 4-foot-8-inch comebacker. A three-putt from less than 4 feet with the tournament in the balance. Homa was suddenly and stunningly the winner of the PGA Tour’s 2022-23 season opener.

Homa’s preferred lie will take nothing away from what was one of the great clutch shots in recent PGA Tour memory, but it still will go down as an interesting wrinkle in a Sunday afternoon full of them.

alan bastable

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.