HUMBLE, Texas – Having entered the final round six strokes off the lead, JB Holmes knew he needed to do something special on Sunday to have a chance of winning the Shell Houston Open. After he started with five straight birdies, special was well on its way.
The long-hitting Holmes raced out to a front nine 29, tying a tournament record, then played the back nine 1-under-par for an 8-under-par 64 to get to 16-under par 272. Then he waited for nearly two hours, eating, chipping, pitching, putting and watching. At the end, Holmes would beat 2008 SHO champion Johnson Wagner and third-round leader Jordan Spieth in a playoff. The guy who hadn’t hit a shot that counted since 2:30 p.m. or so, looked the most warmed up. After two playoff holes on the 18th, where Spieth bogeyed the first and Wagner bogeyed the second, Holmes made a pair of no-stress pars to take the trophy.
“It was a perfect day for me,” said Holmes, who thanked a higher power on this Easter Sunday for his win. “I hit a lot of great shots, lots of good putts… It ended good, too. So it was a nice day.”
Oh, but there was so much drama in between.
Even with Holmes’ surge, it still seemed like somebody would get hot and overtake him. After all, there were 17 golfers in front of him on the leaderboard when the day started. But one by one, most of them faltered, except for Spieth and Wagner.
Wagner, who arrived on Sunday just a stroke behind Spieth, fired a 69 on Sunday, capped by a great par save on 17 and only the third birdie of the day on the difficult 488-yard 18th, ranked the hardest hole on the course. Wagner got up and down out of the sand on 17, then drained a 23-footer on 18, punctuated by fist-pumping that would rival Tiger Woods.
Dallas’ Spieth, the hottest player on Tour, certainly looked like he was in control when he birdied the par-5 14th and then the 15th to get to 16-under himself, but he had to hold on for dear life on the 18th, when he made an incredible up and down just right of the greenside bunker. He had a severe downhill lie, where he managed to loft the ball just enough to get it over the bunker and 11 feet past the hole. From there, he poured it in, and we had a three-man playoff.
But this would be Holmes’ day. He striped both his tee shots on 18, long and down the middle on 18, while Spieth nearly hit his tee shot in the water left and couldn’t get it up and in from the greenside bunker right. A hole later, Holmes hit it just past the hole to set up a great birdie opportunity from 11 feet. He missed the putt, but Wagner, who had a long birdie putt from the bottom of the green, missed a five-footer for par, and it was over.
Holmes came into Sunday thinking he had an outside chance, but a five-birdie start doesn’t happen very often. “After that,” He said. “I felt like I had a chance.”
Both Holmes and Spieth were already in the field for the Masters. Wagner needed a win to get there, just like 2008 when he wound up changing vacation plans at the last minute.
“I’m pretty disappointed right now,” said Wagner, who lipped out his par putt on the second playoff hole. “But I hit so many good shots coming in … I had some day dreams of the Masters, obviously, but not this year.”
Spieth, who has finished second the last two weeks after collecting his second tour win in Tampa, Fla., by winning the Valspar Championship (ironically in a playoff), said he still feels good about his game going into Augusta next week, where he finished second in last year’s Masters. The fourth-ranked player in the world said being in the hunt is perfect preparation for majors, and he’s certainly had plenty of that.
“I feel as prepared as I think I could be,” said Spieth, who plans to work on his long irons in practice this week. “I felt more and more comfortable with more and more pressure, you know, and that gives me a lot of confidence going into Augusta, where you probably have more pressure than anywhere.”
For Holmes, who also has two second place finishes this season, the win moves him to third in the FedEx Cup standings, right behind Spieth and leader Jimmy Walker, who won in San Antonio last week, but skipped the SHO. This has been a season where Holmes said he has been sharper mentally, which really paid off on Sunday.
“I feel like I’ve been able to control it better, kind of let go a little bit and not get in my way as much,” said Holmes, a University of Kentucky alum who showed no signs disappointment after his Wildcats lost in the Final Four Saturday night. “Just focus on one shot at a time. I know you say that, but it really is that simple and that difficult.
“I can go out every day and have fun. I can do my routines properly. And I can try to stay present best I can. And those are my three goals every day. Whatever the score is, the score is. But if I do those three things, I consider it a successful day.”