At Riviera, J.B. Holmes survives the wind and Justin Thomas
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — It was the day when southern California seemed more like eastern Scotland, the day the wind whistled down the coastal canyons and turned Riviera Country Club, the place known as Hogan’s Alley, into a nightmare of missed putts and blown leads.
It was survival golf in Hollywood country, and J.B. Holmes, despite three-putting from three feet early in the final round, was the ultimate golfing survivor, coming from four shots off the pace on the final 18 to win the Genesis Open by a shot over a stunned Justin Thomas.
Holmes’ courageous one-under 70 for a 14-under 270 hoisted him over Thomas, whose 76 left him at 271.
For the 36-year-old Holmes, who had brain surgery at the end of 2011, it was the first victory in four years,
“I wanted to put on a show,” joked Holmes about the game. “Man, it was really tough out there on the backside. The wind was blowing hard. It must have been exciting to watch.”
In a tournament that had been stopped one day after another by rain storms, Holmes and Thomas on Sunday, playing catch-up with the schedule, needed to play 34 holes for some 10 hours starting at 6:45 a.m.
Others wore down. “I got tired,” said Tiger Woods, who didn’t make a birdie on the last 10 holes and dropped to 15th from sixth, shooting 72 for 278. “I was at 10 under and slipped four shots.”
Others collapsed. Adam Scott, close to the lead for much of the tournament, shot a 5-over 76 during the long day, and Jordan Spieth soared to an 81 to tie for 51st.
The 25-year-old Thomas, who won the 2017 PGA Championship and was voted Player of the Year, was at a cumulative 17-under 196 — par at Riviera is 71 — when moments after finishing the third round, in late morning with a 65, he started fourth. He was four ahead of Scott and Holmes.
“I really struggled in that wind out there,” he said. And after a birdie on the short par-five first, Thomas bogied two, four, five and 10. Seemingly he regained control with a birdie at 11 but then dropped from the lead with a four-putt double-bogey six at 13.
He said the putting “showed a flaw in my game. It was very difficult out there.”
As it was for Holmes and others. But J.B. (short for John Bradley), who is from Kentucky as is Thomas, showed persistence. Hey, when you’ve had a small chunk of your skull removed — Holmes keeps it as a souvenir — playing golf, even under difficult conditions, is a relative lark.
“He played great,” Thomas said of Holmes, ”but it’s always tough to hand him a tournament. I feel like I should have won the thing. Hit some great shots the last five holes. Just hit a putt too hard.”
On the seventh hole, Holmes hit a bunker shot too hard, and it got buried in the rough. He got a free drop and made bogey. He had only one other bogey, on the par-five 11th.
“It was the way you want to win,” said Holmes. “You want to come down to the end and be able to hit shots and make some key putts. I made a couple of birdies early and let him feel the pressure. He had a four-shot lead, and it was down to one.
“Flip-flopped several times. It was a challenge with having to get up at 4:40 (a.m.) the last couple days and play 27 one day and 11 holes one day and 33 one day. It was a test to the routine.”
After hail and a Monday finish at Pebble Beach, at least the Genesis finished in four days, if not exactly as planned.
“I’m happy it’s over,” said Woods, who got up even earlier than Holmes, around 2:30 a.m for his pre-round exercises. “Somehow we got in 72 holes. That was amazing with the weather.”
So, all things considered, was J.B. Holmes come-from-behind victory.