[PHOTO: Jed Jacobsohn]

From the standpoint of his status on the PGA Tour, Sahith Theegala didn’t need to show up at the Fortinet Championship, the first event of the FedEx Fall series. Then again, feeling down after missing the Tour Championship by one spot and chuffed over getting a chance to compete in his native California, he kind of did need to.

One of six players in the field who advanced to the BMW Championship during the FedEx Cup Playoffs to lock up berths in all the 2024 signature events, Theegala, a self-professed golf addict, took the next step in his professional career today, posting a two-stroke victory over S.H. Kim at Silverado Resort in Napa, California, to become the 12th first-time winner on the tour this season. Australia’s Cam Davis, who played alongside Theegala in the final pairing, shot a closing 70 to finish alone in third.

“It doesn’t feel real. It’s probably not going to set in for a while, but man it was a lot of good golf, and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” said the native of Orange, California, who won in front of a large contingent of boisterous family and friends. “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 like I can’t believe how many people are cheering for me, but this feeling is incredible.”

The clubs Sahith Theegala used to win the 2023 Fortinet Championship

Theegala, 25, began the final round with a two-stroke lead over three players, including Davis and two-time PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas, and was never truly threatened. He opened with a birdie to go three ahead and refused to let his advantage slip below that margin until a bogey on the par-5 finishing hole. A closing four-under-par 68 on Silverado’s North course gave him a 21-under 267 total, tying Stewart Cink’s tournament record.

A decorated collegiate player at Pepperdine University, who in 2020 swept the three most prestigious player-of-the-year awards in Division I and won the prestigious Australian Master of the Amateurs tournament in Melbourne, Theegala claimed PGA Tour win No.1 in his 74th career start and converted a 54-hole lead for the first time in three tries. As a playoffs participant, he will not get FedEx points for the victory, but he does earn $US1.512 million, a two-year tour exemption and world ranking points. He began the week 37th in the Official World Golf Ranking and is projected to move up to 27th.

Kim, who shared the lead with Theegala through 36 holes, shot 68 to finish second, while Davis birdied the last to edge into third place alone. Eric Cole, attempting to strengthen his bid for the Arnold Palmer Award, finished another stroke back in fourth place after a 70. Thomas, the somewhat controversial captain’s pick for Zach Johnson’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, struggled early, hit only four fairways and settled for a 72 to finish fifth at 273.

World No.7 Max Homa, the two-time defending champion, ended up T-7 at 13-under 275.

This article was originally published on golfdigest.com