A BAT­TLE TO THE FIN­ISH

Holmes, Stan­ley lead charge for ti­tle

New Straits Times - - Sport -

PONTE VEDRA BEACH

J.B. HOLMES de­fied con­ven­tional wis­dom on a most un­con­ven­tional course, walk­ing any­thing but the straight and nar­row at the TPC Saw­grass un­til he wound up in a most un­likely place Satur­day in The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship.

He was tied for the lead with Kyle Stan­ley.

Holmes didn’t hit a fair­way over his last six holes on the windswept Play­ers Sta­dium Course, in­clud­ing one that was so far right off the 14th tee that it went into a wa­ter haz­ard on the 12th hole.

He was among eight play­ers who hit five or fewer fair­ways in the third round. The other seven had an av­er­age score of 76.43. Some­how, Holmes shot 70.

“An ad­ven­tur­ous day, for sure,” Holmes said.

Stan­ley got his mis­takes out of the way quickly with three bo­geys on his open­ing four holes, kept a clean card the rest of the way and fin­ished with a tough par save from the bunker be­hind the 18th green for a hard-fought 72.

They were at 9-un­der 207, and more ad­ven­tures await — for more than just them.

Louis Oosthuizen saved par on the 18th for a 73 and was one shot be­hind. Six other play­ers were only four shots be­hind, a group that in­cluded Mas­ters cham­pion Ser­gio Gar­cia and Ian Poul­ter, who thought he had lost his PGA Tour card two weeks ago un­til a cler­i­cal over­sight was dis­cov­ered.

And if the fi­nal round is any­thing like Satur­day, it can all change so quickly.

Of the 82 play­ers on the course, 49 had at least one dou­ble bo­gey. Matt Kuchar had a 9 on the 14th hole and shot a ca­reer-high 81 at The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship.

The cul­prit, as if the TPC Saw­grass isn’t enough, was a wind so treach­er­ous that only one player who teed off after 11:30 am broke 70. That was Si Woo Kim, who didn’t make a bo­gey un­til the 16th hole and shot a 68 to get within two shots.

Emil­iano Grillo had a 67 and was at 6-un­der 210, along with Poul­ter, who had the only bo­geyfree round. Gar­cia, Pa­trick Cant­lay (72) and Alex Noren (72) were another shot be­hind. Pat Perez, in the third group to tee off, had a 66 for the day’s best score and sud­denly was in the group just five shots be­hind.

“No lead can be big enough,” Oosthuizen said. “That’s what makes this golf course great. We’ve been over the years great fin­ishes around this golf course and hor­ri­ble fin­ishes. It’s a great three fin­ish­ing holes, and you need to be on your game. You need to hit the ball well and ... try not to do any­thing heroic when you have the lead.”

Holmes had to be re­mark­able where he was hit­ting it.

He opened with 10 straight pars, added a pair of birdies, and then the fun be­gan.

After hit­ting off the map on the 14th into the wa­ter on the 12th hole, he faced a blind shot over the mounds from 230 yards into the wind on the hard­est hole on the course. He let it rip, and it flew into the left bunker. He nearly holed that and es­caped with bo­gey, his only dropped shot of the round.

From the pine straw left of the 15th fair­way, he man­aged to get it on the green and lagged beau­ti­fully from nearly 60 feet. Another poor drive kept him from go­ing for the green on the 16th, and after a birdie on the is­land­green 17th, Holmes fin­ished with one more wild drive, one more un­likely par.

“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,” Holmes said.

So many oth­ers wish they could have done the same.

That goes for Dustin John­son, the World No 1, who looked as though he might have a chance to at least get in the mix un­til tiny mis­takes led to bo­geys, and a big mis­take led to dou­ble bo­gey on the 16th hole. John­son shot 40 on the back nine for a 74 and was 11 shots out.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Ja­son Day had two dou­ble bo­geys in his round of 73 and was eight shots be­hind, still hope­ful of be­com­ing the first back-to-back win­ner of this cham­pi­onship. He will play the fi­nal round with Rory McIl­roy, another for­mer World No 1, who shot 71. AP

AFP PIC

Joint leader J.B. Holmes was among the eight play­ers who hit five or fewer fair­ways in the third round on Satur­day.

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