NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Sahith Theegala talked all week about the importance of having nearly three dozen family members and friends following him at the Fortinet Championship. Playing with the lead on Sunday, the 25-year-old from California did everything he could to keep his supporters in high spirits.
Theegala made more than enough birdies to cover for his mistakes, shooting a 4-under 68 for a two-shot victory at Silverado, his first win in 74 starts on the PGA Tour.
Theegala started with a two-shot lead and birdied three of the opening five holes. No one got close to him the rest of the way.
“No matter the good golf or the bad golf, they just have my back. It’s a team win,” Theegala said, his mom and dad by his side on the 18th green. “It’s not just a win for me, it’s a win for the whole family.”
Theegala finished with seven birdies and three bogeys, including one after he hit a tee shot that landed in a fairway bunker on a different hole. With a three-shot lead, he hit his drive and his layup into the rough on the par-5 18th hole and tapped in for a 6. He finished at 21-under 267.
S.H. Kim (68) finished second, and Cam Davis (70) was another shot behind.
Justin Thomas had his worst round of the week in his final tuneup for the Ryder Cup in Rome, closing with an even-par 72 to finish six shots back. Max Homa, the two-time defending champion and Thomas’ U.S. teammate, closed with a 69 to tie for seventh.
Theegala, a son of Indian immigrants who played in college at Pepperdine, made the Tour Championship as a rookie last year. Last month, he made a bogey on the final hole of the BMW Championship that prevented a return to East Lake, ending his season on a sour note.
Even though he already is set for all the $20 million signature events next year, he wanted to play at Silverado because he loves the tournament and competition.
It paid off in a big way. The victory gets him into the Sentry Tournament of Champions and assures his spot in the Masters.
Before his breakthrough in Napa, Theegala had close calls at Phoenix, Hartford and Sea Island, endearing himself to fans.
His family’s support was unwavering. The afternoon ended with an emotional Theegala wiping his eyes and hugging and shaking hands with just about everyone in sight.
“To be able to share this moment with all of them is really special and something I’ll never forget,” Theegala said. “Through the highs and lows this week they’re cheering me on and supporting me. They’ve been that way since I’ve started my pro career. It’s awesome just hearing the chants every single hole and it definitely gave me a lot of energy.”
Theegala overcame his mistakes with steady iron play and superb putting. His three bogeys were one more than he had in the first three rounds combined. Each time, he steadied himself.
Theegala dropped a shot on the par-4 sixth hole after hitting his tee shot way right into a fairway bunker on No. 9. He responded by hitting a wedge 13 inches from the hole for birdie on the par-4 eighth, then made another bogey on No. 10.
Theegala birdied three of the next six holes, and after a par on the 17th, he was able to soak in the cheers from the gallery as he walked toward the 18th green.
Following bogeys with bold shotmaking is nothing new for Theegala. This time, he did it often enough to earn a trophy.
“That’s been the strength of my game for so long,” he said. “I have a pretty short memory on and off the golf course. It works out well in golf. This week I just felt so relaxed and felt like my game was in a really good place.”
Kim, one of the best putters on tour, played bogey-free and had four birdies on the back nine.
Thomas began the day with a chance for a win that would erase any doubt about U.S. captain Zach Johnson’s decision to pick him for the Ryder Cup team after a down year. But he bogeyed Nos. 2 and 5 and turned in 3 over before salvaging his round with a bogey-free back nine.