J.B. Holmes doesn’t have the look of a world-class marathoner, but he certainly earned that distinction Sunday by outlasting the field and surviving the elements in a daylong trial at Riviera Country Club.
Holmes, after enduring 33 holes over a course that at times seemed to measure out at 26.2 miles, shot 68-70 in his final two rounds to finish the rain-delayed Genesis Open at 14-under 270.
He defeated Justin Thomas, who had entered the fourth round with a four-shot lead over Holmes and Adam Scott, by one stroke. Thomas, who after three impeccable rounds seemed destined to coast to victory, uncharacteristically unraveled on the greens in the final round with a four-over 75 after having shot 66-65-65 in the first three rounds.
“I knew it was going to be very difficult out there to shoot a low score, so I probably needed a little help from Justin,” Holmes said.
“I made a couple birdies early and kind of let him feel a little bit of pressure”
Sunday’s completion of the third round began at 6:45 a.m. with all players on the course and bundled against temperatures in the 40s. The fourth round got underway at about 9:30, with the lead group of Holmes, Thomas and Scott finally teeing off about 11:30. The final group was on the course for well over five hours after experiencing brief midday showers and being buffeted by fiercely gusting winds throughout the afternoon.
“Man, it was really tough on the back side,” said Holmes, who carries a reputation as an extremely deliberate player. “The wind was really blowing hard.”
The two Kentuckians, 36-year-old Holmes and 25-year-old Thomas, became locked in a virtual match-play duel in the final round, as Holmes assumed the rock-steady countenance that Thomas had displayed for three rounds. Scott fell off the pace by shooting a 76 to finish tied for seventh.
Bogeys by Thomas on three of the first five holes while Holmes shaved two strokes off par closed the gap, and once Thomas’ putter began to fail him, Holmes was on his way to the fifth victory of his career and first since April of 2015.
“It was very difficult,” Holmes said. “It was a challenge just with having to get up at 4:40 the last couple days and play 27 one day and 11 holes one day and 33 holes one day. It was a tough week.”
Thomas suffered his first three-putt in 190 holes on the short par-four 10th, then on No. 13 four-putted from 64 feet and followed that with another three-putt on 14. That put him two shots behind Holmes. He closed the gap to one after that but could never grab a piece of the lead.
“I really struggled putting in that wind out there,” Thomas said. “It unfortunately just kind of showed a flaw in my game.”
Si Woo Kim made the most aggressive move up the leaderboard Sunday. Kim, the youngest winner of the Tour Championship at 21 in 2017, got within two shots of the lead at one point by shooting a 68-66 in the final two rounds. He finished alone in third at 12 under, one shot behind Thomas, after starting the third round tied for 19th.
Rory McIlroy could never quite overcome his opening-round 72. He holed a bunker shot on No. 16 to get within two of the lead, but ran out of holes. He shot 69-69 Sunday to finish at 11 under, tied for fourth with Marc Leishman, who shot 67-68.
Tiger Woods’ hope for a miraculous Sunday and his first victory in this event in 13 tries essentially ended on No. 7, his 16th hole of the third round, when he drove into a fairway bunker and bogeyed to fall nine strokes off the lead. He did shoot 65 in the third round, thanks primarily to his five-under start in the first four holes late Saturday. But even if he had kept a torrid pace, he was simply too far behind to make up the difference. He closed with a 72 that included four bogeys in a six-hole stretch, and tied for 15th place at six under.
“Yeah, I got tired,” Woods said after playing 29 holes Sunday.
“I definitely felt it today. I was at 10 [under] and slipped four shots coming in.”
Jordan Spieth entered the final round tied for fourth at nine under but moved dramatically and quickly out of the high-rent district of the leaderboard. He birdied the first hole, then in the next nine holes had two double bogeys, two bogeys and a nightmarish quadruple-bogey eight on the short par-four 10th hole after needing four shots to get out of the back bunker. He shot 81 and finished tied for 51st.
Thomas said he was proud that the tournament had come down to two Kentuckians.
“I’ve known J.B. since I was 7 or 8 or 9 years old,” Thomas said. “He was always so great to me. He would always pull me in the ropes in practice rounds in PGAs and stuff like that. I mean, that’s stuff I never forget.