Monday Finish: Holmes' short game work paid off at Riviera
February 18, 2019
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
J.B. Holmes wins by one at Genesis Open
In temperatures that dipped to 45 degrees and winds of up to 34 mph, J.B. Holmes grinds out a 1-under 70 in the final round for a one-shot win over fellow Kentuckian Justin Thomas at the Genesis Open.
Welcome to the Monday Finish, where Holmes made crucial par saves on 13 and 16, enjoyed his career-best putting week, and picked up his fifth PGA TOUR win.
1. Kentucky won
J.B. Holmes is from Campbellsville, Justin Thomas from Louisville.
One way or the other, the Bluegrass State was going to win. It’s just that it always looked like it would be Thomas, who took a four-shot lead into the final round.
“Yeah, it was great being able to go out and play with him and battle it out,” said Holmes, who at the end of a 34-hole slog Sunday and played a steadier back nine (36) while Thomas struggled (38). “He's such a great player, so it was fun being out there, talking and just battling it out.”
Holmes recalls playing golf with Thomas for the first time when Thomas was 12 or 13.
“It was in Kentucky and I knew he had a chance,” Holmes said. “At that age, you've still got a lot of stuff to go through, but he was definitely a talent and I thought he would get out here and he's done that and some.”
Thomas remembers being “7 or 8 or 9” when Holmes first pulled him inside the ropes at the PGA Championship.
“I just never thought, you know, 15 years later he would beat my ass at Riviera,” Thomas said. “That was a bummer.”
2. Hard work paid off
You’d never have thought so in watching him play at the Genesis, but on the season Holmes had just one top-10 finish, a 9th at the season-opening Safeway Open.
The reason: Shoddy work on the greens.
“Really bad putting is an understatement the last few weeks,” he said.
Buckling down with his coach, Matt Killen, Holmes went to work at Riviera.
“We spent a lot of time this week with the coach and getting on the green and trying to find the right ball position and how it set up and putting through some gates, making sure I was starting the ball online,” Holmes said. “I putted for several hours throughout the week. In the morning, we changed our routine and we had a string and a mirror and just made sure that everything was dialed in, and then I could trust it and go out there and make confident strokes.”
None were bigger than his 12-foot par save at the 13th hole (while Thomas was four-putting) and 11-foot save at the 16th.
3. Wind frustrated Thomas
It has not been a Chamber of Commerce West Coast Swing, what with the rainy final round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, plus the delays at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Genesis. The challenging conditions got the better of Thomas on the final day at Riviera.
“I really struggled putting in that wind out there,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve needed to get better at and it unfortunately just kind of showed a flaw in my game.”
There was a lot that stood out between the four-putt double-bogey on 13, and the three-putts at 10 and 14, but Thomas was still irritated by one mistake in particular. He tried to jam his third putt on 13 into the back of the cup, and the ball took a hard lip-out.
“I’ve got to stop going that,” he said. “That’s not the speed that I hit putts at when I’m putting well.”
4. Woods spoke for many
Tournament host Tiger Woods had an outside chance to finally win at Riviera, but after he got to 10-under he bogeyed four of his last 10 holes to take himself out of it.
“Yeah, I got tired,” he said after a week full of interruptions and early alarms and freezing-cold hands. “I don't know if I'm the only one, but I definitely felt it today. Wind, cold. I was at 10 and I slipped four shots coming in. That's the way it goes.”
The good news was he saw far more good shots come off his clubs than he did at Riviera last year, and he now heads to the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship for his first TOUR start in Mexico.
5. Riviera was brutal
It was cold. Wet. And windy.
How hard was it? Jordan Spieth shot 81, failing to break 80 for just the third time in his PGA TOUR career after a round that included a double-, triple- and quadruple-bogey. No one went bogey-free in the third round, and only two people (Vaughn Taylor, 67; Carlos Ortiz, 69) did so in the fourth. And Justin Thomas had a four-putt and two three-putts in a span of five holes.
“It’s hard to tell you how extreme it is,” said Adam Scott (76).
At the fact that Scott, Thomas and Holmes were playing 34 holes in a single day after another pre-dawn wake-up call and Sunday became a battle of endurance and will power.
1. Holmes has never been hotter with the putter
He was first in Stokes Gained: Putting at +2.043 per round, which was statistically the best performance of his career. He ranked +1.727 in finishing T4 at the 2015 BMW Championship and +1.727 in winning the 2006 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Coming into the Genesis, Holmes was languishing at 202nd in SG: Putting, but worked hard and saw it pay off. Of his total Strokes Gained at the Genesis, 54 percent came on the greens.
2. The winner also crushed the par-3s
Holmes was 6-under on the par-3s, including an ace, four birdies, and 11 pars. That was his best score to par on the par-3s in any single tournament in his career, and the best by a Genesis winner at Riviera. No par was bigger than his sand save from the bunker at the par-3 16th on Sunday, with playing partner Thomas looking at a likely birdie.
3. Thomas still statistically a closer
Justin Thomas became the first player since Paul Casey at the 2018 Travelers Championship to take at least a four-shot lead into the final round and not win. Still, Thomas, who has four top-5 finishes in six starts this season, is still a better-than-average 6-for-9 at converting with at least a share of the 54-hole lead. He’s 5-for-9 at converting with at least a share of the 36-hole lead.
4. McIlroy (69, T4) stumbled at the start
Without his A game, Rory McIlroy notched his third straight top-5 finish. You could fault his failure to birdie the par-5 17th and his bogey on 18 in the final round, but the bigger culprit was his slow start to the week, a slugging, 1-over 72. Of the top 24 finishers at the Genesis, only Dustin Johnson (opening 73, T9) and Xander Schauffele (opening 74, T15) started worse.
5. Woods (72, T15) neared a weird personal record
Tiger Woods had three eagles, which was just one shy of his career best set at the 1996 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (a five-round tournament) and 2010 Masters Tournament.
The other good news was that this marked his seventh top-15 finish in 13 starts at the Genesis. The bad news was he made four late bogeys in the challenging conditions, and the Genesis remains the only tournament where he has double-digit starts and hasn’t won.
The Wyndham Rewards Top 10 is in its first season and adds another layer of excitement to the FedExCup Regular Season. The top 10 players at the end of the FedExCup Regular Season will earn bonus payouts from the Wyndham Rewards Top 10.
There was another flip-flop at the top after the Genesis Open, with Xander Schauffele and Matt Kuchar changing places yet again. In battling through extreme cold and gusting winds, Genesis champion J.B. Holmes was the week’s biggest mover, going from 61st to 9th.
Rank Rank last week Player What Top 10 gets (End of Regular Season) 1 2nd Xander Schauffele $2 million 2 1st Matt Kuchar $1.5 million 3 3rd Gary Woodland $1.2 million 4 4th Marc Leishman $1.1 million 5 5th Charles Howell III $1 million 6 14th Justin Thomas $850,000 7 6th Phil Mickelson $700,000 8 7th Justin Rose $600,000 9 61st J.B. Holmes $550,000 10 9th Bryson DeChambeau $500,000