As it turns out, nobody is impervious to Sunday leader pressure, not even a young, nine-time PGA Tour superstar like Justin Thomas.
On a marathon Sunday at the Genesis Open, caused by weather precluding Thursday golf, Thomas, a popular, 25-year-old former major winner who is currently 4th in the world rankings, played his first 15 holes of the day (holes 4-18 of his third round) in 4-under to build a four-shot lead with 18 holes to go.
However, with no break between the third and fourth rounds, Thomas struggled badly in a final round characterized by chilling winds, playing those last 18 holes in 4-over 75, 10 strokes worse than both his second and third rounds combined, to ultimately finish one stroke behind fellow Kentuckian J.B. Holmes.
It would have been a 10th career victory for Thomas, but instead became a third career runner-up. Not that Holmes was an unworthy champion, but Thomas himself admitted after the round that he gave this one away.
For Holmes, it was his fifth career victory. A two-time American Ryder Cup participant (two American victories), Holmes has seen his career stagnate badly over the past two seasons, but he was his best self this week at Riviera. Rounds of 63, 69, and 68 over the first three rounds, respectively, had him within four of the much higher-regarded Thomas going into the final 18.
Holmes reached a tie for the lead after just six holes of round four, and he was able to hold on and out-duel Thomas, withstanding the uncharacteristically harsh conditions in South California to shoot a 1-under 70, reach 14-under-par for the week, and come out on top.
It was not the prettiest of victories, and immediately after the round, Holmes made mention of he and Thomas notching an absurd number of three-putts, but it is still a win for the 36-year-old who had not won on Tour since the 2015 Shell Houston Open.
Previously most well-known for his prodigious length off the tees, Holmes did not appear to gain many fans in the Genesis Open victory. A twitter storm emerged throughout the day on Sunday, a lot of which strongly criticized Holmes for excruciatingly slow play.
Final Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. J.B. Holmes -14 (-1)
2. Justin Thomas -13 (+4)
3. Si Woo Kim -12 (-5)
4. Marc Leishman -11 (-3)
4. Rory McIlroy -11 (-2)
6. Charles Howell III -9 (-2)
7. Michael Thompson -8 (-1)
7. Adam Scott -8 (+5)
9. Six players tied -7
How J.B. Holmes Won the Genesis Open
Thanks to poor weather in Los Angeles wiping out Thursday play, the 156 players in the Genesis Open field had to play a rapid catch-up to get all 72 holes in by Sunday sundown.
Thomas’ group was only on the third hole of the third round when Saturday play halted, but youthful energy seemed to be working in his favor. Through 11 holes of round three, Thomas was at 6-under par, and at 17-under for the tournament – he was a huge threat to break the tournament record of 20-under, which had been set by Lanny Wadkins in 1985.
However, Thomas would not get any closer to that number, playing the final seven holes of his third round at even-par, but with a four stroke lead over Holmes and Adam Scott, who were all grouped together for the final day, his advantage still felt enormous.
Holmes, meanwhile, stumbled early in the day with bogeys on Nos. 7 and 8 of the third round, but he was able to right the ship from there, playing the third round’s back nine bogey-free to post a 3-under 68, and reach the final 18 with a legitimate chance.
Round four was not kind to Thomas. Both Thomas and Holmes birdied the first hole, which played the easiest of the week, but after JT slipped up with bogeys on Nos. 2, 4, and 5, Holmes suddenly stepped onto the 6th tee box tied for the lead. From there, Holmes birdied just a single hole for the rest of the day, but that was all he needed. That birdie came on the 10th, which re-tied Holmes for the lead with Thomas.
Holmes bogeyed the par-5 11th, but then carded pars on each of his final seven holes, while Thomas’ back nine comprised of two birdies, two bogeys, and a double bogey.
Holmes ruined a chance to basically put the tournament away when he three-putted for par on the par-5 17th, but still arrived on 18 with a one-shot advantage. Holmes and Thomas both hit beautiful drives, but Thomas was unable to conjure up the birdie he needed to force a playoff, as Holmes sealed a 72nd hole par with an unbelievably well-executed lag-putt from 52 feet away.
Holmes struggled off the tee, finishing 41st in driving average (281 yards), and 63rd in fairways-hit (29 of 56), but he led the Genesis field in strokes gained: putting for the week, while ranking second in greens-hit (52 of 72) and total birdies (19).
J.B. Holmes’ Final Stats
Driving: 281.0 yards (41st)
Fairways: 29/56, 51.8% (63rd)
Greens: 52/72, 72.2% (2nd)
Putts/GIR: 1.673 (6th)
Scores: 1 Eagle, 23 Birdies, 38 Pars, 8 Bogeys, 2 Doubles
What It Means For Holmes
The win was tremendous for Holmes’ career, as his past two seasons included few highlights. It does not represent the greatest comeback of his career, as he had to recover from brain surgery in 2011, but it puts him right back into relevance.
The victory jumps Holmes to 9th in the current FedExCup standings, and from 100th to 42nd in the world rankings. He was not coming into the week in the best form, as disappointing rounds of 76 and 77 caused him to miss the cut at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but he was dialed-in from the start at Riviera, taking the opening round lead after needing just 63 strokes over his first 18 holes.
With the win, Holmes earned $1,332,000 and 500 points to move to No. 8 on the PGA Tour’s points list. He also earned 64 Official World Golf Ranking points to move from 100th to 42nd, which qualifies the 36-year old Kentuckian for next week’s WGC-Mexico Championship. However Holmes has already announced that he’ll be opting out of a trip to Mexico City, due to a pre-planned family vacation.
J.B. Holmes’ 2019 Season
Cuts Made: 6
Earnings: $1,788,641 (9th)
FedExCup Points: 707 (8th)
OWGR Start/Now: 87th/42nd
The poor weather prevented many red scores, but it did little to slow down former PLAYERS Champion Si Woo Kim, who had the best final round score, a 5-under 66, to finish in solo-third for the week.
The most encouraging aspect of Kim’s performance had to be his putting. Known as a dreadfully-poor putter, the 23-year-old South Korean gained more than six strokes on the field with his flat stick over the final two rounds.
With a birdie-eagle-par-birdie start to his final-round back nine, Marc Leishman posted one of the better scores, a 3-under 68, which led to a T4 finish for the week. After an up-and-down 2018, Leishman has been stellar in 2019, with four of his six starts resulting in a top-4 finish, including a victory at last October’s CIMB Classic.
Rory McIlroy bounced back from an over-par first round with a blistering 8-under 63 in his second, and while his Sunday scores did not quite match his phenomenal Saturday, the world No. 8 shot a 2-under 69 over his final 18 holes to tie Leishman for fourth place.
McIlroy led the field for the week in both strokes gained: off-the-tee and greens in regulation.
Adam Scott played well enough to make the final threesome with Thomas and Holmes, but while Holmes was able to take advantage of Thomas’ stumbles, Scott was unable to get any positive momentum going.
With three sets of back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 8 and 9, 12 and 13, and 15 and 16, Scott shot a final-round 5-over 76, which dropped him from 2nd place to a T7 spot.
Bubba Watson is a three-time Genesis Open champion, who also happened to be the defending champion, but he looked far less conversant on Sunday with a Riviera course he’s traditionally dominated. A double-bogey on the final hole meant a 2-over 73 from Watson, which dropped him out of the top 10 entirely, and into a tie for 15th.
At 8-under through three rounds, Kyle Jones, was in position for by far the best result of his 11-start PGA Tour career, but the Snowflake, Arizona native melted down the stretch, producing a 5-over 76 to drop from T5 to T33. Jones bogeyed each of his final four holes.
What About Tiger?
Tiger’s second start of 2019 brought a great deal of eyes to Riviera this week. His performance, however, was very hit-or-miss. A third round 65 suddenly propelled the 80-time PGA Tour champion onto the periphery of the first page of the leaderboard.
His hot play continued into the final 18, as he was 3-under through 7 holes in round four, but his momentum came to a screeching halt thereafter.
With four bogeys in a six-hole stretch mid-round, Tiger signed for a 1-over 72. At 6-under for the week, he finished T15. His putting was all over the place this week, but he should be encouraged that he ranked fourth in the field in greens in regulation.
Tiger Woods’ Final Stats
Driving: 292.8 yards (15th)
Fairways: 36/56, 64.3% (13th)
Greens: 51/72, 70.8% (4th)
Putts/GIR: 1.824 (48th)
Scores: 3 Eagles, 14 Birdies, 41 Pars, 14 Bogeys, 0 Doubles
Yet again, it was one step forward and two steps back for Jordan Spieth, who suffered through one of the worst days of his career on Sunday.
Through three rounds, the 25-year-old three-time major champion was in fifth place on 9-under-par, and in line for a MUCH needed top-10 finish – his first since a T9 at last July’s Open Championship.
Unfortunately for Spieth, he does not look any closer to figuring it out. His final round was an absolute disaster, as one birdie was cancelled out by two bogeys, one double, one triple, and one quadruple-bogey.
Even with pars on each of his last eight holes, Spieth finished the final round with a dreadful 10-over 81, the highest score in the field, and the highest score of his PGA Tour career.
Spieth dropped 47 spots down the Sunday leaderboard, into a tie for 51st. His biggest Sunday struggles came with his short game: he lost 3.8 strokes to the field around the greens, and 3.6 strokes to the field on them. Through six events this season, he has nothing better than a T35.
Spieth’s Nightmare Season
Position-Tournament (OWGR Rank After)
T55: Shriners Hospitals For Children Open (14th)
MC: Mayakoba Golf Classic (15th)
MC: Sony Open in Hawaii (18th)
T35: Farmers Insurance Open (20th)
T45: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (23rd)
T51: Genesis Open (24th)
Exit Question For J.B. Holmes
The conditions made things really tough, but there was a lot of discussion on the broadcast and social media about the pace of play today. What were your thoughts about the pace and is that something you were thinking about or working on?
J.B. HOLMES: “Well, you play in 25-mile-an-hour gusty winds and see how fast you play when you’re playing for the kind of money and the points and everything that we’re playing for. The greens are fast, the ball — Adam had a putt, he kept setting the ball down and it was rolling.
“You can’t just get up there and whack it when it’s blowing that hard. You’ve got to read wind and there’s a lot of slope on these greens. It’s not an easy golf course and you throw in winds like that. On 13 or 14, the par 3, I hit a 5-iron and it stays pretty good. He hits a 5-iron really good and a gust of wind comes up and he comes up like 15 yards short, and I think he hit it better than I hit mine. It’s very tough.
“Then when you get putting like that, it’s just not going to be fast anywhere.”
Final Scores, Money & Points
Genesis Open | Riviera Country Club | Pacific Palasides, CA | Feb 14-17, 2019