PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – After pushing his drive right, J.B. Holmes approached his ball to find it resting on a sewer grate beside the cart path right of the 18th fairway. Holmes looked left and saw a line of trees between him and the hole, which sat 194 yards away during Round 3 of The Players Championship Saturday.
Not an ideal spot for your average Tour pro. Holmes called it “very comfortable.”
“That’s not new for me,” he continued. “I grew up playing golf in the woods. I didn’t learn how to hit fairways until I got on Tour.”
After a free drop, Holmes’ 6 iron found the green, leading to a par and 2-under round of 64 on a blustery day where sub-par scores were at a premium. The round lands Holmes in a tie with Kyle Stanley for a share of the 54-hole lead at 9 under. The two will be paired together in Sunday’s final group.
Holmes, whose last win came in 2015 at the Shell Houston Open, rarely made it look easy. Hitting just four fairways, the Kentucky-native made good use of his skill at hitting through holes in trees, which he – with a straight face – called “a simpler shot.” It helped that Holmes led the field in putting Saturday, needing just 25 to make his way around the demanding TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course.
“I rolled a bunch of putts over the edge for the last two weeks, so I felt like I’ve been hitting really good putts and hadn’t made a whole lot, so this week has been the other way around,” Holmes said. “I’ve hit a lot of good putts, and a lot of them went in.”
Holmes opened the round with 10 consecutive pars, holding firm at or near the top of the leaderboard while swirling winds wreaked havoc on much of the field. By day’s end, 49 of 82 golfers recorded a double-bogey or worse – Holmes carded just one bogey.
“I’d take one bogey on every golf course I ever play the rest of my life,” said Holmes, a powerful hitter off the tee not always known for his ability to find fairways. “I usually can make a bunch of birdies, so if I can just narrow it down to one bogey, then I’m usually in good shape.”
It’s been a steady if unspectacular year for Holmes, who’s missed just one cut in the 2016-17 season but has no individual top 10s (though a T5 paired with Bubba Watson at last month’s Zurich Classic). A win tomorrow at golf’s “unofficial fifth major” would be the fifth of his 12-year PGA Tour career, pushing him up the list of notable pros. Yet Holmes shrugged off the idea of a win here offering life-altering potential.
“Don’t get me wrong, I would love to win, and it would be awesome. Such a cool tournament, and to be able to lift that trophy would be amazing, but I’m not going to dwell on everything.
“I’ve got to play a lot of awesome places, see a lot of cool things and win some tournaments,” Holmes continued. “Not a lot of people get to do that. It’s been amazing, and hopefully tomorrow I can go out and have another amazing day.”