Third time’s the charm for Sahith Theegala.
The now-25-year-old put his name on the map of professional golf last season with a spectacular rookie campaign, making it all the way to the Tour Championship.
But, despite holding the 54-hole lead in two different events during his rookie season, he had yet to win on the PGA Tour and that continued through his sophomore season in 2023.
At least until Sunday.
With the Southern California native playing close to home this week at the Fortinet Championship in Napa, Theegala posted a final-round 68 to convert his third career 54-hole lead into his first career PGA Tour victory at 21 under.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Theegala said after the win. “It’s probably not going to set in for while. But man, that was a lot of good golf.”
And because of the proximity to where he grew up in Chino Hills, outside Los Angeles, Theegala got his breakthrough win in front of a huge crowd of friends and family, led by his father Murali. Never was Team Theegala more energized when Theegala curled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole to extend his lead back out to four.
The NBC broadcast was fixed on Murali.
“I think one thing is as a rookie, you’re hoping that somebody plays bad and for you to win it, but he went and got it, I’m so proud of him,” Murali said. “This goes a long for his career, feeling confident that I could do it on my own, I don’t have to depend on others. I think this is why I was proud him, that I knew he could do it.”
As he approached the 17th green holding a four-shot lead, chants of “Thee-gal-a” rang out from the crowd.
“That was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” the former star at Pepperdine said. “I had so many family and friends cheering me on, and just the support I have is mind-blowing. I go to bed at night these last few days and I’m like, I can’t believe how many people are cheering for me and rooting for me.”
Looking at his scorecard, which featured just two bogeys after he took a share of the 36-hole lead, you might think it was an easy win as he coasted to a lead as large as five strokes Sunday.
However, in what’s become a signature style for Theegala, he missed more than 50 percent of his fairways for the week but was a wizard with recovery shots and finished second in the field in strokes gained: around the green.
He began the day with a two-shot lead over a group that included Justin Thomas and extended it to three by knocking his approach to five feet at the first. His lead never shrunk smaller than that until the final hole.
S.H. Kim, who was the co-36-hole leader with Theegala, finished runner-up at 19 under. Thomas, in a bid to validate his Ryder Cup captain’s selection for the Rome matches in two weeks time, finished solo fifth, his best showing since a solo fourth at the WM Phoenix Open in February.