Saturday night in Lexington, Kentucky fans rioted after their beloved and previously undefeated Wildcats fell to Wisconsin in the Final Four. Couches were set ablaze, cars were tipped over, and in the end some 30 or so citizens found themselves in handcuffs.
On Sunday morning, it was J.B. Holmes, UK alum, who was on fire. He birdied nine of his first 12 holes to race to a lead at the Shell Houston Open. He was hot in all senses of the word; angry that dreams of perfection ended for Big Blue Nation, confident that every putt he hit would drop.
For a stretch, the golf world was on 59 watch. With the Masters agonizingly close, it was the sort of distraction fans needed to pass the time. Holmes ultimately settled for an 8-under 64, good enough to get him into a playoff at -16. Once there, a par-par performance on 18 earned him his fourth career PGA Tour win.
In the post-round interview, mention of Kentucky was conspicuously absent even as Holmes wore a sly grin. But it was green–as in prize money and a certain jacket–and not blue that was on the 32-year-old’s mind. Holmes rolls into the season’s first major on a torrid streak. He now has a win, two seconds, and a T10 in his last six events.
In most other years, Holmes would be considered the hottest player entering Augusta. That distinction, though, goes to one of the golfers Holmes bested in the playoff. Jordan Spieth led by one entering Sunday looking for his second victory in three tournaments.
With Holmes’ scorching front nine, Spieth was relegated to chasing. The young Texan delivered as he so often has. He made two birdies down the stretch as Holmes hit balls on the range, patiently waiting to see if his score would stand up.
It was Johnson Wagner, playing on a sponsor’s exemption, who made sure there’d be extra holes. He birdied the difficult 18 as Holmes smacked drivers hundreds of yards away.
“He made it?” Holmes asked his caddie of Wagner’s putt.
Yes he did. Spieth sank a 12-footer to make it a three-man playoff. The 21-year-old congratulated Wagner as he walked off. “Nice putt, dude.”
Holmes was less jovial. He looked annoyed after a near two hour wait. A 64 is nice, but it’s nothing without a trophy. The same can be said of 38-1.
The extra practice, however, appeared to pay off for Holmes as the trio replayed 18. He pounded two drives down the middle of the fairway after struggling with the big stick all weekend. He and Wagner each parred the first time around, while Spieth’s erratic play cost him a shot at career win number three. His drive landed on the down slope just safe from the water on the left. His spinning, hooking approach shot found the bunker. A distracted sand shot–a camera shutter the culprit–followed and Spieth walked towards Georgia. He’ll be a favorite next week.
Wagner hoped to just be there at all. Alas, he missed a 6-footer for par that would have extended the tournament. No one wanted to see him go out like that. Not even Holmes, whose face showed one part relief, one part pity.
The roll of emotions continues this week for Holmes. He saw red and felt blue on Saturday night. Sunday, he emerged with with silverware. Now about that green…