JB Holmes pips faltering Justin Thomas to Genesis open title
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 18/02/19 11:49am
JB Holmes ended a brutal final day of the Genesis Open as a PGA Tour winner for the fifth time after clinching a one-shot win over Justin Thomas at Riviera.
With the best part of two rounds to complete on Sunday, victory looked to be Thomas' for the taking when he fired a second-straight 65 to claim a four-stroke advantage at the 54-hole stage, only to falter early in his final round to open the door for the chasing pack.
Rory McIlroy, Marc Leishman and Si Woo Kim all threatened to upstage the American duo as fatigue and tough, windy conditions took their toll throughout the afternoon, but Holmes emerged as the last man standing as he recovered from a three-putt bogey at 11 to par the last seven holes for a one-under 70 and a winning score of 14-under par.
Thomas had momentum on his side early on Sunday when he made four birdies in six holes around the turn and added another at 17 to get to 17 under and, after a 20-minute break, he opened his final round with a confident birdie before beginning to lose his way at the next.
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A poor drive led to bogey, and Thomas then three-putted the fourth and dropped another shot at the fifth as Holmes suddenly found himself tied for the lead thanks to birdies at the first and third, although he suffered a setback at the seventh when he thinned his second from a fairway bunker and his ball buried in the rough.
Holmes escaped with just a bogey and, with a clearly-jaded Adam Scott fading out of contention, Thomas and Holmes traded pars to the turn before a two-shot swing on the 10th, where Thomas three-putted from over 50 feet while Holmes pitched to feet feet and nailed the chance for birdie.
Holmes then suffered the indignity of a three-putt from barely three feet at the long 11th as Thomas birdied to reclaim his lead, but the world No 4 then looked crestfallen as he trudged off the 13th green having needed four attempts to get down from the back of the putting surface.
Thomas' putting problems surfaced again on the next as he dropped another shot with another three-putt, although he pulled one back with a good roll from seven feet at the 16th only for Holmes to cling onto top spot with a nerveless 12-foot putt to save par, emulating his impressive escape at the 13th.
Both missed great chances for birdie from inside 10 feet at the par-five 17th and, with Thomas 20 feet from the cup on the final green, Holmes left himself a tough two-putt from long range after coming up a club short with his tentative approach.
But Holmes held his nerve with a superb lag and, after Thomas was unable to get his birdie putt to drop, the Kentucky native tapped in to secure his first PGA Tour win since edging out Jordan Spieth and Johnson Wagner in a play-off at the Houston Open almost four years ago.
A forlorn Thomas saved his par to cap a disappointing 75 which left him in outright second, while Scott closed with a 76 which included four bogeys in five holes on the back nine as he finished on eight under - the final threesome taking five-and-a-half hours to play the final round.
Former Players champion Kim won the race for third as he carded a commendable 66, his seventh birdie of the day at the 12th getting him firmly into contention on 13 under before a bogey at 16 effectively ended his chances, while McIlroy had to be content with a tie for fourth with Leishman after struggling home in 37.
McIlroy was eight behind Thomas after round three before reviving his hopes with an eagle at the first, and a birdie at the seventh got him within two of the lead until he made a mess of the 10th and slipped back to 11 under.
He atoned with a good four at the 11th only to miss from six feet to bogey the short 14th, although he did get back in the hunt with an unlikely two at 16 when he holed a delightful splash-out from a greenside bunker.
But he could not get up-and-down from the left of the 17th green and closed with his third bogey of the inward half as he posted a 69 which left him level with Leishman, who birdied 10 and 13 either side of an eagle at 11 before he took himself out of the running with back-to-back bogeys at 15 and 16.
Tournament-host Tiger Woods had raised expectations of something special with a third-round 65 followed by three birdies in seven holes to race to 10 under midway through the final round.
However, the 43-year-old then dropped four shots in seven holes and managed to par home to return a 72 which earned him a top-15 finish on six-under par.