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Max Homa lets his mom down, but Rory McIlroy thrives under lights at ‘The Match’

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McIlroy wins skins game at The Park against Homa, Lexi Thompson and Rose Zhang; $2.1 million and counting to charity

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    Max Homa knew a 3-footer after dark is different. So he tried his best to elude it.

    “You guys are bad people … my mom’s watching,” Homa told his fellow competitors as he lined up a short par putt at the eighth hole during Monday’s ninth edition of “Capital One’s The Match.”

    “Could you imagine this?” Homa continued. “My mom’s going to watch me three-putt from 15 feet.”

    Moments later, his 3-footer lipped out on the left side. “Had that feeling,” he said afterward.

    Homa’s mom wasn’t alone in watching her son vexed by The Park’s lighted setup. The Match’s ninth edition featured a 12-hole skins game between Homa, Rory McIlroy, Lexi Thompson and Rose Zhang, with all proceeds to benefit charity. The foursome didn’t hold back in delivering barbs, whether self-deprecating or toward each other, in a spirited competition under the lights in West Palm Beach, Florida.

    McIlroy won six of the first eight skins, but the final four skins carried over, setting up a closest-to-the-pin challenge from 100 yards, worth $1.1 million to charity, to determine the winner. McIlroy went first and stuffed a wedge to 4 feet, an effort that couldn’t be matched by his fellow three competitors. The final tally: McIlroy with 10 skins (worth $1.9 million), Thompson with two skins (worth $200,000).

    The Match’s nine editions have combined to raise more than $41 million for charity.

    “How much fun it was, being out here with Max and Rose and Lexi, and playing at such a great facility,” McIlroy said, “all these people out here, the atmosphere, it was a really cool night.”

    “What we’ve seen with what The Park is doing, and we can feel it here,” McIlroy continued, “so many kids, creating so many opportunities to get into the game of golf, it’s really cool.”

    The Park charmed The Match participants in its first major broadcast showcase, less than a year after the former West Palm Beach Golf Course reopened for play – following an extensive redesign by Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner and Dirk Ziff. The Park’s 18-hole championship course is complemented by a nine-hole lighted course and putting course, promoting access and inclusivity for South Floridians to fall in love with the game of golf. In contrast to typical Florida marshland, The Park presents minimal water hazards; alternatively, the challenges come via undulating fairways that run off into thick fescue areas, and multi-tier greens.

    These greens grew particularly feisty as Monday evening progressed, with night golf’s charms taking the forefront. Green speeds varied as temperatures lowered into the evening; creeping dew made short putts a notably vexing proposition. Nor was course management a straightforward task; although the course was amply lit, players had trouble adjusting to distances and directions – Homa called “Fore, I think?” after his second shot at the par-4 fourth (from a fairway bunker) sailed left of the green. Zhang striped her tee shot down the middle at the par-4 ninth but wasn’t sure of its fate until she received word it was dead center. “Am I chilling?” she asked. “Let’s goooo!” she replied when the answer was affirmative.

    Rose Zhang escapes waste area and drills birdie putt at Capital One’s The Match

    Not even short-iron shots were safe from the evening’s distance challenges.

    “That went long?” Homa asked in disbelief when told he went long-left at the 136-yard, par-3 11th. “I don’t like the groaning.”

    It was the continuation of a frustrating stretch for Homa, who was forced to scramble at times but took the adversity in stride, maintaining his trademark dry wit throughout.

    “Just give me one cool thing,” Homa remarked after missing a 15-foot birdie try that would have won the par-4 10th.

    “Everyone out here is like, ‘Man, this Max guy hates charity. Just giving zero dollars back.’”

    His name might not be tied to a direct contribution, but Homa was certainly part of a winning evening at The Park.

    Max Homa drains lengthy birdie putt at Capital One’s The Match

    “This was amazing,” Homa said afterward. “Here at The Park, this is what golf should be more like … The golf course is amazing in itself, but to see the excitement around this place, I’m really excited for the future of hopefully building more places like this, but this is a tremendous start.”

    Here’s a quick look at how the skins were won at the ninth edition of “Capital One’s The Match” …

    Thompson won the short par-4 second hole with an eagle, draining a 30-footer from behind the green to win two skins worth a total $200,000 to charity.

    After the third hole carried over, the par-4 fourth hole was played as a one-club challenge; McIlroy made a winning par, worth two skins and $200,000 to charity, after selecting 5-wood. He found the fairway and then played a swooping scissor-slice from 175 yards that caught the green’s right side and ran into the fringe. He said afterward that he would have normally played 8-iron. He made do and two-putted from some 50 feet, lagging to 3 feet and draining the par putt; he said afterward that he often practices putting with a 5-wood with putting coach Brad Faxon. It paid dividends here.

    Rory McIlroy uses 5-wood to par hole and win skin at Capital One’s The Match

    McIlroy won two more skins with an up-and-down birdie at the par-5 sixth, totaling $300,000 to charity, to which Homa replied, “Proud of you.”

    Zhang nearly got on the board at the par-5 seventh, draining a 15-footer for birdie before chirping McIlroy that his 10-footer had looked like 5 feet from further back. McIlroy took the shot in stride and drained the putt to match the hole.

    Rose Zhang judges slope well to set up birdie at Capital One’s The Match

    Then came the eighth, where McIlroy won two more skins, worth $300,000 to charity, with a two-putt par from 30 feet, as neither of his three fellow competitors could match the par. “I sort of feel bad, but sort of don’t,” McIlroy quipped afterward.

    Thompson had a 23-foot birdie try to win the 11th, worth three skins and $600,000, but it missed to set the stage for the mega-stakes 12th hole (worth $500,000 on its own) to total $1.1 million.

    “Hang in there,” McIlroy asked of his high-draw second shot into the par-5 12th hole. It did, the ball landing on the front fringe and releasing to set up a 25-foot eagle try.

    “I can’t understand why people talk to their golf ball,” said commentator Charles Barkley.

    McIlroy heard this query through an earpiece and smiled. “I can’t help it, Chuck,” he replied.

    McIlroy couldn’t convert his eagle; Homa and Zhang each made birdie to set the stage for a closest-to-the-pin to determine The Match’s ninth winner. As he had for most of the evening, McIlroy stepped up and delivered from 100 yards to 4 feet. Neither Homa nor Thompson could get closer, and Zhang had the last attempt; her ball tracked toward the hole but checked up some 8 feet short, just a bit outside McIlroy’s.

    Rory McIlroy hits wedge closest to the pin and wins Capital One’s The Match

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for PGATOUR.COM. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

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