Since the Nedbank Golf Challenge was first contested in 1981, only quality players have added their names to the honours board at Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, South Africa.
Tournament debutant Max Homa knew that last week and, rather than be cowed by the knowledge, he was inspired to join them.
“Every day we walk up [hole number] 9, and they have the plaques of everyone who’s won, and the names are stout,” the American said after rounds of 66-68-69 opened a one-shot advantage over the field heading into the final round. “It would be amazing to add my name to the tradition.”
Homa, a 32-year-old Californian and six-time PGA Tour winner, achieved his aim with another 6-under 66 for a 19-under 269 total to earn a four-stroke triumph over Denmark’s Nicolai Højgaard. Dane Thorbjørn Olesen finished a further shot back alone in third, and American Justin Thomas placed solo fourth on 12-under 276.
Homa was the 41st winner of the title (the 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic) and, like his predecessors, he is a Ryder or Presidents Cup representative. It’s a trend that was more or less inevitable in the early years, when the field was small (a mere five competed in the inaugural tournament, won by Johnny Miller in a playoff against Seve Ballesteros) and elite, but it has maintained in recent times, too.
In that sense there was something almost inevitable for Homa about his success because he was the No. 2 scorer for the United States in his Presidents Cup debut last year and his team’s top scorer in this year’s Ryder Cup when he was again a first-timer.
The result also confirmed Rory McIlroy as winner of the 2023 Race to Dubai ... a fifth year-ending top ranking on the DP World Tour.
In another sense, Homa spent the week somewhat in awe of his own performance after not having played competitively since leaving Rome at the start of last month.
After his first-round 66 left him in a share of the lead, he conceded to being “pretty rusty” and added: “I would’ve assumed I’d shoot 6-over before 6-under.”
But when he reached the weekend bogey-free and locked with Frenchman Matthieu Pavon at the top of the leaderboard, Homa said: “If you’re going to fly 27-odd hours over here, you might as well play some good golf. It’s nice that I’m doing that.”
The final round became an echo of the safari country that surrounds Sun City, and which Homa had enjoyed ahead of tournament week, as he was hunted by the two Danes before showing them a clean set of heels.
His day was defined by two of the par-5s. At the 596-yard ninth he launched a sensational approach over water from 245 yards to 18 feet and drained the putt for an eagle to complete a front nine of 5-under 31.
An hour later, at the 602-yard 14th, with the Danes closing in (Olesen was one back, Højgaard three), Homa pulled his drive toward big trouble in the trees, only for it to hit a referee’s golf cart and stay safe.
The par following was backed up by birdies at Nos. 15 and 16, which made the journey to the last, and the congratulations of the watching and waiting Gary Player, a straightforward one.
“It’s been a dream 10 or 11 days,” Homa said after lifting the trophy for his first victory outside of America. “I got off to such a great start. Thorbjørn was playing unbelievable, and Nicolai was playing phenomenal golf. It’s kind of what you dream of. You want to be in the fight, and it was fun to close it out at the end.
“It’s been tremendous to travel to a new place and meet so many amazing people. Everyone has been so welcoming and kind. To come out with a trophy is just a cherry on top.”
Homa played the Nedbank on a tournament invitation and is not qualified for this week’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship field in Dubai.
The result also confirmed Rory McIlroy as winner of the 2023 Race to Dubai. Only an improbable pair of victories last week and this week in Dubai for Adrian Meronk or Ryan Fox could have denied the Northern Irishman a fifth year-ending top ranking on the DP World Tour, and they failed to finish in the top 30.