PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — For the majority of a marathon Sunday at Riviera, J.B. Holmes was being talked about for all the wrong reasons. Holmes—whose pace of play is glacial, to put it kindly—was crucified by fans, announcers and the social media army for slowing down the final group, for taking over a minute to hit a 12-foot putt, for not figuring out his yardages while his playing partners hit.
“Here is J.B. Holmes, going through all the maps and scales and typography data that he can find,” said Jim Nantz, usually the most diplomatic of diplomats, on the CBS broadcast.
On-course reporter Peter Kostis chimed in:
“The issue I have with that is…he had plenty of time to do that while Justin [Thomas] was getting ready for his shot or Adam [Scott] was getting ready for his shot. And he waited until it was his turn to play to go through his whole routine.”
Holmes wasn’t penalized, of course. Remember, the PGA Tour has handed out precisely two slow play penalties over the past 24 years. So Holmes kept on keeping on, taking his sweet time. In the process, something funny happened: he won the golf tournament.
Holmes held steady while his playing partners faltered, managed a one-under 70 at blustery Riviera and won the Genesis Open by one shot over fellow Kentuckian Justin Thomas.
“Just kind of grinded it all day,” Holmes, 36, said after securing the fifth and most significant win of his career. The victory qualified him for next week’s World Golf Championship in Mexico and for the Masters.
Si Woo Kim finished solo third at 12 under, with Rory McIlroy and Marc Leishman rounding out the top five a shot further back. Tiger Woods finished tied for 15th at six under.
The final putt of the day fell at 5:00 p.m. local time, more than 10 hours after third-round play resumed at the crack of Sunday’s dawn. It was a marathon finish to a marathon week—a six-hour rain delay on Thursday meant a game of catch-up for the rest of the weekend. The final group played 34 holes on Sunday, including a final round that lasted a painful five and a half hours.
Until the early afternoon, this looked like Thomas’s tournament to win. The world No. 4 had a four-shot lead when he birdied the first hole of his final round, but his inability to find fairways led to three bogeys in his next four holes. It was game on from there, with Thomas, Holmes and Adam Scott hanging around the lead before Scott faded by the turn.
Thomas would miss four putts inside seven feet on the back nine, including one to tie for the lead on 17, and his birdie effort to force a playoff on 18 went begging.
“It’s something I’ve needed to get better at,” a surprisingly upbeat Thomas said of putting in the wind. “Unfortunately it just showed a flaw in my game.”
His four-over 75 was the second straight time the 25-year-old struggled in contention. He shot one over on Sunday at the Waste Management Open to finish third.
“J.B. won,” He said. “He played great. But it’s always a bummer to hand him the tournament. I feel like I should have won that thing.”
Thomas was far from the only player who had some struggles on Riviera’s slippery poa annua greens. After taking 50 seconds to line up a three-foot putt, Holmes three-putted for bogey on the par-5 11th. But he came up with the goods when it counted, holing an 11-footer for par on 16 and two-putting from 50 feet for a winning par on 18.
Holmes has emerged as the most-cited example of the slow play problem that, make no mistake, is plaguing the PGA Tour. Last year, he infamously took more than four minutes to hit an approach on the last hole of the Farmers Insurance Open. Since then, he’s been Public Enemy No. 1 among golf fans who want to make five-plus hour rounds a thing of the past.
Whether that’s a fair reputation or not, having such a figure win one of the Tour’s signature events will only embolden anti slow-play zealots. Making matters worse: this was the second straight week that pace-of-play became a major issue—Phil Mickelson had to return Monday morning to polish off his AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am victory after the final group could not squeeze their round into nearly 5 hours of daylight.
Holmes won’t give a damn. Why should he? The final group wasn’t ever put on the clock, because they weren’t out of position. Such is current state of affairs on the PGA Tour: five-and-a-half-hour rounds don’t put you out of position.
“You play in 25 mile an hour gusty winds and see how fast you play, when you’re playing for the kind of money and points that we’re playing for,” Holmes said.
Holmes broke no rules. Heck, his group even waited for a large portion of the front nine. This is a Tour problem, not a J.B. problem. His tempo is but a symptom of the Tour’s comically lackadaisical “enforcement” of pace guidelines. Until that policy changes, nothing else will.