PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — J.T. versus J.B.
Louisville versus Campbellsville.
A clash of Kentuckians that emerged at cool, wet and rain-delayed Riviera ended with J.B. Holmes taking the Genesis Open by one stroke over fellow Bluegrass state native Justin Thomas. Holmes erased a four-stroke deficit over the final 18 holes to record his fifth PGA Tour win and first since the 2015 Shell Houston Open.
“The wind was really blowing hard, it was hard putting,” the 36-year-old Holmes said after a 1-under 70 to finish 14 under. “It was the way you want to win. You want to come down the end and be able to hit shots and make some key putts.”
There were few signs Holmes was in winning form, with his lone top-10 in 2018-19 coming at September’s Safeway Open. The Genesis Open marked his eighth start of the season and he ranked 202nd in strokes gained putting when he arrived at Riviera. Holmes led the Genesis Open field in that statistic for the week, gaining 8.17 strokes on the field with his 111 putts.
“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, crediting coach Matt Killen for adjustments. “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.”
Blasted on social media for his pace of play a year after an episode at the Farmers Insurance Open, Holmes noted he had never been put on the clock all week and fired back at critics.
“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,” he said.
In 13 starts at Riviera, Holmes has shown signs of an affinity for the course, highlighted by a run from 2008 to 2012 in which he finished no worse than 12th, and he posted another T-11 in 2016. Still, given how many players developed strong records at “Hogan’s Alley,” Holmes was hardly anyone’s pre-tournament pick.
For Thomas, it was painful to lose the lead on a course he first played during the NCAA Championships while with Alabama in 2012.
“I feel like I should have won that thing,” he said following a final-round 75. “Hit some great shots the last four holes.”
Thomas took command early Sunday, finishing off a third-round 65 that was more impressive considering he had to overcome a cold shank at the par-4 ninth hole. Faced with a 152-yard approach, Thomas’ ball veered immediately right off the club, tracked by the broadcast’s shot tracer, and landed in the 10th fairway. With 54 yards to go, Thomas played a wedge to 4 feet and, before heading to the green, waved at the group in front who was taking in the unusual locale for someone 15-under at the time.
After a brief break between rounds, a final-round duel with Holmes emerged and included two-shot swings at the 10th, 11th and 13th holes, where Thomas four-putted.
“I think it was just more I really struggled putting in that wind out there,” Thomas said. “It’s something that I’ve needed to get better at, and it unfortunately just kind of showed a flaw in my game. I really didn’t play that bad.”
Tournament host Tiger Woods gave his native southern Californians a thrill Saturday, starting out on Riviera’s back nine with three birdies and an eagle, sending roars through the Santa Monica Canyon. He maintained solid play through Sunday despite the 6:45 a.m. restart but flamed out as the winds picked up and fatigue set in.
“I got tired,” he said after a 72 for a T-15 finish. “I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I definitely felt it today. Wind, cold. I was at 10 [under par] and I slipped four shots coming in. That’s the way it goes.” Gwk