CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Comebacks, like the players trying to make them, come in all shapes and sizes and from varying depths.
Going into the Sunday’s final round of the Wells Fargo Championship, there’s 28-year-old former NCAA champ Max Homa, who in his second year on the PGA Tour missed 15 of 17 cuts in 2016-'17.
There’s also the one-time major champion Jason Dufner, who in last 22 starts has missed the cut 12 times and finished in the top 50 just three, while changing coaches, caddies, equipment and sinking to No. 230 in the world.
Joel Dahmen? His mother died from pancreatic cancer when he was in high school, his brother developed testicular cancer not long after, and he suffered from testicular cancer in 2011, having to have a testicle removed. He has already come back, finishing in the top 25 in half his starts this year while ranking second on tour in birdies. What he hasn’t done? Win.
Then there’s Pat Perez, who just under two months ago thought he’d torn his Achilles only to be relieved to discover it was only a calf strain. Still, he missed six weeks and continues to battle lingering pain.
A victory on Sunday at Quail Hollow would be career-altering in one way or another for any of them. One week, it’s all it takes.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there and feeling it a little bit,” said Homa, who shares the lead with Dufner and Dahmen through three rounds at 11 under after a one-under 70 on a rain Saturday. “Honestly, it’s just a fun experience for me at this point. Just going to keep playing good golf.”
A couple of years ago, the former Cal-Berkeley standout was doing anything but. Homa’s driving was killing him, and he racked up just $18,000 in his sophomore campaign on tour. Things were so bad that he jokes now how he made more money playing in Monday pro-ams. His last start that year, he missed the cut by 15 strokes.
Slowly, things got better, though, after Homa reconnected with his swing coach from his college days, Les Johnson.
This season, he’s made more than $370,000, which includes a tie for 10th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He’s missed just one cut since in stroke-play events and now finds himself on the precipice of not just keeping his card for the first time but winning.
“When I played very, very bad two years ago, I just kept thinking about that word [relentless],” said Homa, who has “relentless” tattooed on his right arm. “I knew I was going to be back out here, and I was going to make myself get back out here.”
The same can be said by the others as well.
“It’s kind of been few and far between,” Dufner said of his chances on the weekend of late. “I’ve been there before, it’s been a while, but I kind of know what to expect. It will be a good challenge to see where I’m at, what I'm doing.”
The challenge won’t be easy, given what’s at stake and who is chasing them.
Rory McIlroy, who has won twice at Quail Hollow and already has a victory this year at the Players Championship, is just two shots off the lead. Another stroke back is Justin Rose, the highest-ranked played in the field at No. 2 in the world and winner of six titles since the start of 2017. Paul Casey, who won just three starts ago and has two more runner-up finishes this season, is another stroke back at seven under.
How will the nerves hold up with so much firepower lurking and a chance for victory within reach?
Dahmen perhaps summed it up best.
“I think I’ll be plenty nervous and probably all day long, especially if I’m playing well,” he said. “But that’s why we play the game.”