AUGUSTA — It’s Sunday morning, so I hope you’ll allow me to make a confession. It’s a little dark, but bear with me.

I’ve been rooting against Max Homa all week.

Journalists are supposed to be objective, but I refuse to be this week. I’m going to be furious on Sunday night if he somehow wins. It’s going to bug me for a while. I want to see him taste disappointment. The further he fell behind on Saturday? The happier it made me.

You see, our teams are matched up in fantasy baseball this week.

My squad (The Baltimore Bums) is currently crushing his boys (The Oppo Tacos). I can’t say for certain, but it’s likely he forgot to set his line-up this week. He doesn’t appear to have an active first baseman. Or a third baseman, for that matter. I’m pretty sure he left a couple pitching spots empty too. I could text him to ask, but he’s probably not answering. In summary, it would be a bit of a disgrace if I didn’t win.

Plus, it would bring me so much joy if he claimed a slightly more important victory Sunday.

Look, I can’t pretend to be objective here, so I’m not going to try.

If someone else wins the 2024 Masters, I will write the best possible story that I can. I will talk about Scottie Scheffler’s artistry, or Collin Morikawa’s clinical execution. I will try to write the best Ludvig Åberg story that’s ever been written, because that’s what my job calls for.

Until that happens, every ounce of my soul will be silently rooting for Homa.

I won’t pretend like we’re best friends. There are other people in golf media, including several people I work with at NLU, who know him far better than I do. But we’re friendly enough that I can admit I want this for him. I want to see him play one special round at the right time, one he is absolutely capable of, and then watch him return to this place for the rest of his life, earning a seat at the table alongside Tiger Woods, his childhood hero.

I usually try to keep some distance from the athletes I write about. It’s the profession I grew up in. But sometimes life happens. It would be more dishonest at this point if I didn’t bring it up. Even if Homa had never recorded a funny video for my golf-obsessed 12-year-old daughter, even if we’d never traded stories or jokes or texted about our shared Lakers fandom, I’m pretty sure I would be pulling for him this week. It is easy, when you’re a professional athlete, to disappear behind a shield and keep some distance from fans or from media, and Homa has repeatedly refused to do that. At times, it’s probably been to his detriment. He’s done it anyway.

He’s been the kind of athlete we insist we always want — humble, hilarious and human — but rarely seem to get.

Masters champions, I will point out, come in all shapes and sizes, from different countries and different backgrounds. There really isn’t a blueprint, despite what many people think. They’re not all country club kids who are born into privilege. Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros helped blow up that archetype, and Woods and Vijay Singh swept away the pieces. But there is something appealing about the fact that Homa grew up wearing out the dodgy, local public golf course near his home and that he wasn’t an elite recruit or anyone’s idea of a sure thing.

Yet here he is, having molded himself, slowly and over the course of many years — through a valley of endless disappointments and embarrassments — into a golfer capable of greatness. A kid who used to watch Masters highlights of Woods over and over until he’d memorized them showed up this week and got to play two rounds with Woods in the Masters.

“He's got all the talent in the world,” Woods said this week. “I got a chance to play with him at the Open Championship at St Andrews, and his ball flight, as solid as he hits it, it's just a matter of time before he starts winning in bunches.”

I thought about all this on Saturday as I followed Homa and Bryson DeChambeau, as I watched Homa battle some obvious nerves and struggle to make birdie putts. I could never play the kind of golf he did during his third round, remaining stoic but relentlessly positive every time a shot went awry. But if I did get Quantum Leaped into his body, I know I’d be grateful to have a friend like Joe Greiner on my bag. When Homa yanked his opening tee shot well left, they talked over the options from the 9th fairway, then launched an 8-iron up over the trees that landed short of the green.

“I had an impossibly hard chip,” Homa said after the round.

Yet Greiner talked him through it, and Homa somehow willed in a 7-foot par putt that danced around the cup like it was doing the hula.

“Just because I was nervous didn't mean I couldn't do anything,” Homa said.

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On the fourth hole, he sailed an iron way left and long. It was only a few paces from the grandstand, leaving him another unnerving up-and-down. He and Greiner mulled it for several minutes, trying to decide where to land the ball. The sharp edge of the greenside bunker loomed on the right. A dangerous slope in the center of the green loomed on the left. The pin was roughly halfway between them.

“If you don’t think you can spin it, you have to go out left,” Greiner said.

Homa hit such a nippy, buttery pitch, it seemed to hover through the air like a hummingbird. But when it landed, the ball hopped twice and slammed on the brakes. It came to rest four feet from the hole. On television, I’m sure it looked simple and routine. But if you were standing where I was — right behind Homa and Greiner — you would have asked what kind of sorcery he’d just deployed. That’s when I knew he was up for the fight. There would be mistakes in the rest of his round (a drive left into the trees on No. 8; an iron long on No. 12; an approach into the right bunker on 18) but they never led to a disaster. His only bogey of the day came at 12, when he couldn’t get up and down from behind the green, but because it was playing as the 6th hardest hole on the course, it was hardly a disaster.

For the majority of his career, Homa has not played well in majors. There is no sugarcoating it. At the Masters in 2023, he was in last place going into the final round, and because the final round went off on split tees, he had to play a miserable second nine directly behind Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka in the final group, close in proximity to a major champion, but metaphorically as far away as possible.

His T-10 finish at the Open Championship in 2023 is so far the high point, and today he will be trying to catch Scheffler and Morikawa, two players who are not only younger but already major winners. Logic says they duke it out for 18 holes and one of them (likely Scheffler) will emerge victorious. Whatever is happening up ahead probably won’t stress them out.

But I keep thinking about the quote Homa delivered Saturday night when asked what he was going to do to get ready for the final round. I’m sure you’ve seen it a hundred times already, but every time I read it, I think about Kobe Bryant, the athlete Max Homa always looked to for inspiration, even when his golf game was bleak, and his career hung by a thread.

“I'm going to remind myself I'm a dog and I'm ready for this moment,” he said.

Yeah, I wouldn’t have remembered to set my fantasy baseball lineup either.

Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up.

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