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Elementary for JB Holmes as Justin Thomas Falters at Riviera

By: | Mon 18 Feb 2019 | Comments

IT TURNS out that Justin Thomas is human after all. The young American appeared to have taken control of the weather-affected Genesis Open after a third round of 65 that put him four shots ahead, but it all slipped away in the final round over a stretch of holes that saw JB Holmes picked up a birdie and Thomas dropped three shots.

Adam Scott, of Australia, had also looked like a possible winner until he reached the turn. And when he fell away, it turned into a shootout between Holmes and Thomas. Holmes took the lead on his own for the first time with a birdie and a Thomas bogey at the drivable par-four 10th, but handed it straight back when he three-putted the par-five 11th hole, while Thomas picked up a birdie of his own. Thomas led on 15 under, with Holmes 14 under.

Holmes had entered the week ranked 202nd in Strokes Gained: Putting but found his touch on the greens at Riviera - his three-putt at the 11th was his first of the tournament. “I knew we were getting to the holes that were very, very difficult and that anything could happen,” Holmes said. “For me to get upset was just going to hurt me there. It was over and I had to do the best I could to get back in it.”

Holmes did exactly that by playing par golf the rest of the way. He made a crucial par-saving putt from 12 feet on the 13th hole and another from 11 feet at the 16th. Meanwhile, Thomas ended his own hopes with a double-bogey at the 13th and a bogey at the 14th.

He later admitted that he had not felt comfortable on the greens and that it had cost him the chance of another victory. “J.B. won, he played great,” Thomas said. “But it’s always a downer to hand anybody a tournament. I feel like I should’ve won that thing.”

Instead of Thomas winning for the 11th time on the PGA Tour, it was Holmes who claimed his fifth win, and his first since the 2015 Houston Open. Known for his length off the tee, it was the putter that secured this victory for Holmes, and he was quick to praise his coach, Matt Killen. “We spent a lot of time this week with Matt 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 explained. “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.”

On the 18th green late Sunday, Holmes made a terrific lag putt to set up a short par putt for his final-round 70 that won him the tournament when Thomas missed his birdie attempt from 19 feet. 

”I’ve known J.B. since I was 7 or 8 or 9 years old,” Thomas said. “He was always so great to me. He would always pull me in the ropes in practice rounds in PGAs and stuff like that. I mean, that’s stuff I never forget. I just never thought, you know, 15 years later he would beat me at Riviera.”

Rory McIlroy finished in a tie for four place, four shots behind Holmes, while Tiger Woods ended the week tied for 15th.

European Tour

IT HAS been a while coming, but New Zealand’s big-hitting Ryan Fox finally secured his first European Tour title after defeating Spain’s Adrian Otaegui 3&2 to claim the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth.

The New Zealander finished eight under par after 54 holes of stroke play to earn a bye into the last 16 of the six-hole knockout stages but he still had to come through a further 25 holes to lift the trophy at Lake Karrinyup Country Club, becoming the first golfer from his country to win since Danny Lee claimed the 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic as an amateur.

Fox required needed three trips to the Shootout hole to beat Thailand’s exotically-named Jazz Janewattananond before claiming one up victories over Norwegian Kristoffer Reitan and Ireland's Paul Dunne.

The 32-year-old then took a three-up lead against Otaegui in the final and victory was secured when the fourth was halved in pars. The victory came at his 79th attempt and after several near-misses.

After wins on the European Challenge Tour in 2015 and 2016, Fox burst onto the European Tour scene in the summer of 2017 with three consecutive top-10 finishes in Rolex Series events. Russell Knox holed long putts on the last and the first play-off hole to deny Fox a Rolex Series victory at last season's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

Now he can say that he is a winner and with it comes a two-year exemption. It also means that he can finally shed off the tag for being best known as the son of All Black rugby union legend Grant Fox.

"I've been close a couple of times and it was certainly nice to get one over the line today in a place I hold pretty special," he said. "There was some scrappy stuff in there but I got out of trouble when I needed to and I played great today in the final. Adrian didn't quite play to his best this afternoon but I'm quite happy to take advantage of that.

"I drove the ball very well most of the week and managed to do that today."

Spaniard Otaegui's two European Tour wins have come in matchplay events and he had to birdie the 18th on Saturday to make it into the knockout stages after an 11-man play-off. He beat Australian Daniel Gale 2up in round one and then saw off top seed Per Langfors 2&1 before a 2up victory over home favourite Min Woo Lee.

Otaegui was in magnificent form as he defeated Scott Vincent 3&2 in the semis but the final was a step too far for the 26-year-old.

“I am a little bit disappointed after losing the final but it's been a good week," he said. "Second is a solid week. I went from low to up during the week, so that's good as well, that's a good feeling. I played very good golf the first four games, just nothing went the way I wanted in the end, but I'm still happy."

Fox would be the first to admit that he was lucky to make the final. He was given a let-off in the last 16 as Janewattananond missed a three-footer to knock him out and responded by putting his next tee-shot to similar range for the win.

Qualifying school graduate Reitan bogeyed the last in their quarter-final, meaning a par after getting up and down from the bunker was enough to hand Fox the win, with a Dunne bogey on the third after finding sand proving crucial in the semi.

Fox got a good bounce out of the trees on the first in the final and while both men went over the green, Fox got up and down while Otaegui bogeyed after a clumsy chip. Otaegui found the fairway bunker on the second for the third match in a row and Fox claimed the hole convincingly after getting on the green at the par five in two. A birdie from 15 feet on the third then had Fox in total control before both men parred the fourth and shook hands.

In the battle for third, Dunne was 2up after two against Vincent before the Zimbabwean won the fifth and sixth to take the match to the Shootout hole. Vincent then put his tee-shot into the grandstand for a bogey, with Dunne hitting the pin and sealing third.

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