Holmes collapses on back nine at Match Play

J.B. Holmes prepares to take a drop during his quarterfinal match against Bubba Watson.

J.B. Holmes prepares to take a drop during his quarterfinal match against Bubba Watson.

MARANA, Ariz. – For more than four hours, it figured to go down in Accenture Match Play Championship history as the quickest, yet most boring, set of quarterfinal matches.

Then J.B. Holmes single-handed brought the proceedings to a standstill.

Oh, it could be argued that he at least breathed life into the morning festivities here on Dove Mountain – and surely he did – but oh, how painful it was to watch him fall apart, then take forever to play the last two holes.

In the end, Holmes lost on the 19th hole to Bubba Watson in a battle of the PGA Tour’s biggest boppers, but that doesn’t do justice to how this one played out.

Not only did Holmes squander perhaps the biggest quarterfinal lead in championship history – 5 up through 10 – but he required two excruciatingly lengthy rulings to do so.

The first came at the par-4 18th, with Holmes – having lost the 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th holes to see his lead cut to 1 up – pinned in a desert bush short and left of the 18th green. But bless the golf gods, Holmes had a “get out of jail card” disguised as a small irrigation drip line spout. After conferring with rules official Dean Ryan for what seemed an eternity, showing how he intended to play the shot left-handed, Holmes got his free drop, then wiggled and twisted into position – right-handed, of course, because the rules allow it – only to step back and ask for a second drop.

“A second drip line was on his line,” Ryan said.

Mind you, again Holmes used the rules to his advantage. He showed Ryan that he wanted to play his shot well right of the flagstick, into the bunker, and in that case the immoveable obstruction was in his way. Though Watson, who was looking over a 25-foot putt for birdie, seemed disenchanted with the situation, Holmes got his second drop, though it didn’t save him. Instead, he made bogey and the match was all square.

On to a 19th hole they went (the par-4 10th), but the only thing is, trouble followed – both players going well wide right.

“We both pushed it right,” Holmes said. “I just ended up worse than Bubba’s, but we were on the same line.”

That, however, seemed to be open for debate, because after Watson played his second shot out of the desert, Holmes picked his up and declared it unplayable. He then marched backward into the 18th fairway and started to take his drop. It appeared as if Watson and his caddie, Ted Scott, weren’t pleased with where Holmes and Ryan settled upon for the drop, but the rules official shook his head.

“He wasn’t upset. We were grateful for his assistance,” Ryan said.

Watson, at Scott’s insistence, went down into a ravine in the desert where Holmes’ ball had come to rest, just to provide a reference point for the line. “He kept signaling us over,” Ryan said.

When finally Watson was able to get it up-and-down from just off the green at the 10th, it assured him the match with a brilliant back nine of play. Having made a few mistakes on the outward nine to fall behind, Watson was bogey-free with a few birdies coming home.

“My caddie kept saying, ‘You’re playing great, you’re playing great all week,’ ” Watson said. “Just keep doing your thing. If he beats you, he beats you.”

All things considered, Holmes should have, only he seems to unravel in tight quarters, and very much like 2008 he couldn’t hold it together down the stretch. Back then he owned a 3-up lead with five to play against Tiger Woods – the dominating Tiger Woods, no less – yet lost.

Though Watson isn’t Woods, this was a bigger gag – made even more painful by the fact that it delayed the start of the semifinal match so long.

“It took a little longer than we intended,” Ryan conceded. “But it wasn’t him. The time was making sure he was on the right line.”

As for Holmes being so out of synch, there was nothing anyone could do about that.

• • •

How quiet were the morning quarterfinals – at least until Holmes covered them in drama? Never was there a lead change in any of the other three matches – Luke Donald slapping Ryan Moore, 5 and 4; Matt Kuchar ousting Y.E. Yang, 2 and 1; and Martin Kaymer holding off Miguel Angel Jimenez, 1 up.

Those three matches combined for 49 holes and for only five of them was something all square. Donald seized the lead at the first hole and led throughout. Kuchar wrestled the lead at the fourth and never relinquished it. Kaymer assumed the edge at the third and held it the rest of the way.

Moore was particularly up against it, running into the torrid Donald. But whereas a day earlier Moore had made five birdies and an eagle to oust Nick Watney, against the Englishman he was . . . well, not as warm.

“I gave away too many holes,” said Moore, who bogeyed the par-3 third, then made three in four holes starting at the par-4 seventh. “I hit it solid all week, but not today. On a day like this, you hope the guy you’re playing is struggling, too, but he wasn’t.”

• • •

With Watson’s win, it set up a rematch of last summer’s PGA Championship playoff foes as he took on Kaymer in the semifinals . . . . . Of the eight who teed it up in the quarterfinals, only Jimenez had ever made it this far. He lost in the quarterfinals in 2000 . . . . . Bland that some might suggest, the semifinals (Donald vs. Kuchar; Kaymer vs. Watson) featured four players ranked within the top 20 in the world. You have to go back to 2000 to find the only other time that’s happened . . . . . Despite making three birdies in six holes, Jimenez was 1 down against Kaymer.

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