One win, a rough season … and now The Open lead for Holmes
July 18, 2019
By Mike McAllister , PGATOUR.COM
- J.B. Holmes shot a 5-under 66 in the first round of The Open Championship. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – J.B. Holmes won the Genesis Open in mid-February. Since then?
A dozen starts. Seven missed cuts. One WD. Failed to get out of group play at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. A couple of finishes outside the top-60.
Other than his previous start, a T-21 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic three weeks ago, it’s been, well, not pretty.
“I played great that one tournament, had a win,” Holmes said of his victory at Riviera, the fifth PGA TOUR of his career. “You take that away, it's probably actually been one of my worst years I've played.”
So naturally, he has the first-round lead at The Open Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 at Royal Portrush on Thursday to lead Irishman Shane Lowry by a stroke. It’s Holmes’ first lead in any round of a major since the 2008 PGA Championship, which he led through 36 holes at Oakland Hills.
Such as the vagaries of golf. A player can find something, a spark after months of struggling, and turn it into an opportunity of a lifetime.
“I've really struggled with my swing kind of after I won,” said Holmes, who opened with a bogey, bounced back with a birdie and remained bogey-free for the rest of his round. “At Detroit I had been working on it and it clicked in there and I started hitting it better.
“I've been practicing the last couple of weeks. I've been playing great. So actually felt great coming in. Like I said, my results didn't show that. But I felt very confident coming in. I was hitting it great. Putted well.
“I wasn't really surprised -- I mean, I played well.”
He may have been one of the few not surprised at Royal Portrush. In 32 starts in majors (not counting two WDs), he’s finished in the top 10 just twice. Both came in 2016 – a T-4 at the Masters, followed later that summer by his best major result, a solo third at The Open.
That came on the weekend that Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson eventually turned the tournament into a two-man duel, so it’s doubtful anybody remembers Holmes’ play that week at Royal Troon.
But it was a confidence booster, showing that Holmes could fare well on links courses.
“That was a great week for me,” he said. “And it teaches me I can come out and play. There were two guys that got really hot that week. Besides that, I pretty much had beat the field. So that's definitely a boost.
“I learned a lot playing in that event. And you try to take that to the next one.”
It took him three years later, but through 18 holes at least, he’s got the field beat.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s at Royal Portrush. While many in the field are getting their first look at the Dunluce course, Holmes actually played a round here during a collegiate trip with his University of Kentucky teammates. They also played another famous course in Northern Ireland, Royal County Down.
Alas, there wasn’t much knowledge from that trip to Portrush that he was able to utilize on Thursday.
“I don't remember a whole lot,” Holmes said. “I had a couple of caddies over here. … At the time most of the caddies we had weren't used to somebody hitting 315 or 320, so I got some bad lines. I think I was playing here I hit five or six shots exactly where they told me to and I lost the ball.
“The score wasn't all that great.”
That changed Thursday. This time, the score was pretty great.