By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- J.B. Holmes knew he was playing better than his scores indicated.
Particularly that disappointing 80 he shot last Saturday in the third round at Spyglass Hill last week on the way to a missed cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Not so on a blustery Thursday during the first round of the Northern Trust Open, though.
Holmes' score finally reflected the way he felt he'd been hitting the ball when he fired a 68 that left him one shot off the lead held by Phil Mickelson. The big-hitter from Kentucky. who set the tone for the day when he birdied his first three holes, was tied with Hunter Mahan.
“I really felt pretty good this week practicing and coming up to this golf course,” Holmes said. “I really enjoy playing here. I like the layout of this golf course. I felt like I could shoot a pretty good score today.”
Holmes, who started on the back nine, made the turn in 32 and then hung tough during an adventurous homeward stretch. He birdied the first hole, parred Nos. 3 and 4 and then went bogey-bogey-birdie-birdie-double bogey-birdie over his final six holes played in the day's most gentle breezes.
"It was blowing really hard all day," Holmes said. "You really had to be real precise with your lines, especially striking your irons going in. You had to make sure you flushed it because the wind would definitely move it around quite a bit. I started off great, and then it died down a little bit at the end, and actually when it got a little bit easier I made a few mistakes. My record was a little bit better when the wind was blowing real hard.
"Overall it was a really good day for me. It was really difficult. We got about four holes where the wind wasn't blowing. It was whipping most of the day on us.
Holmes is playing in just his fourth tournament since undergoing brain surgery last September to repair a Chiari malformation at the base of his skull. He’s not quite 100 percent but h says he's seen improvement every week.
Holmes has a good track record at Riviera, too -- sharing the first round lead a year ago on the way to a tie for 12th and finishing seventh or better the three previous years.
"It's nice to get back out here and start hitting some shots like I used to, so it's nice to put a good competitive round in on tough conditions," Holmes said. "It's just nice to be back out here, and it's always encouraging when you can play good starting off on the first round.