CHARLOTTE – More than two years after going through brain surgery, J.B. Holmes is a winner again on the PGA Tour.
Holmes made it harder than he needed to on the final hole at Quail Hollow until rapping in a 3-foot bogey putt for a 1-under 71 and a one-shot victory over Jim Furyk in the Wells Fargo Championship. Furyk finished his Sunday-best 65 some two hours earlier.
Jason Bohn had the best chance to catch Holmes. He was one shot behind when he pulled a 4-iron into the water on the par-3 17th, making double bogey. Phil Mickelson never had a chance, missing four putts from the 4-foot range and closing with a 76 to finish out of the top 10.
The victory capped a remarkable turnaround for Holmes, who won for the third time in his career.
He was diagnosed in 2011 with structural defects in the cerebellum known as Chiara malformations, and he had surgery twice – once to remove a piece of his skull that he still keeps at home, another because of an allergic reaction to the adhesive on the titanium plate at the base of his skull.
Then, he injured his elbow by hitting too many balls in an attempt to return from the brain surgery. He didn’t bother having surgery on his elbow until last year, when he was sidelined by a broken ankle and couldn’t play, anyway.
Only last week, Holmes earned enough money to keep his card for the rest of the year from a medical extension. Now, he’s headed to The Players Championship next week for the richest prize in golf, and more importantly, secured a spot in the PGA Championship this summer in his native Kentucky.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” Holmes said. “I’ve had some ups and downs. It’s a great feeling to be out there and to get one done.”
His only other victories were in the Phoenix Open in 2006 and 2008.
Holmes made enough key putts to allow for some mistakes at the end. He ran off three birdies in a four-hole stretch around the turn, including a 30-footer on No. 11 that opened up a two-shot lead. He gouged a fairway metal out of the rough on the par-5 15th to set up a 6-foot birdie putt that stretched his lead to three shots.
Perhaps the biggest putt of all was an 8-foot par save on the 17th hole. That kept his lead at two shots, and he needed it. Instead of playing an iron off the tee, he drove into the right rough, came up well short of the green and chipped weakly to 45 feet.
Furyk was watching on TV in the locker room when Holmes knocked in the bogey putt to finish at 14-under 274.
Martin Flores, in his first time playing in the last group, fell too far back with a three-putt bogey on the 13th. He made bogey on the 18th for a 72 and was third, the best finish of his PGA Tour career. Bohn also bogeyed the 18th for a 70 to finish fourth.
Bohn received a bad time on the 16th hole – one more would have been a one-shot penalty – and said he let it get to him.
“I didn’t feel comfortable with the wind starting to gust up a little bit, and I went ahead and hit it anyhow in a situation that I probably would have backed off in,” Bohn said. “So I’m more disappointing in myself and the way that I handled that than the golf shots that I hit.”
Still, the biggest disappointment might have been Mickelson.
He was in great shape going into the final round, two shots out of the lead, and the two players ahead of him stalled at the start. Instead, Mickelson matched his highest final round on the PGA Tour since The Barclays in 2012. And it was an old nemesis – short putting – that did him in. Mickelson three-putted from 15 feet on No. 8. He missed a 3-foot par putt on the 11th, a 4-foot birdie putt on the 14th and four-putted from 30 feet on the 16th.
“I had two great rounds and I had two pathetic rounds this week,” Mickelson said. “The greens putted perfectly, even though I didn’t.”
The challenge came three others, with a series of eagles that injected some drama into Quail Hollow, if only briefly.
Furyk chipped in for eagle from off the 15th green and then closed with three straight pars for a 65 to sit in the clubhouse at 13-under 275. Bohn holed out a sand wedge from 95 yards on the par-5 10th hole that disappeared into the cup on the third bounce. He also chipped in for birdie on No. 12.
Flores chipped in for eagle from short of the 10th green that allowed him to tie for the lead, but only until Holmes made a short birdie putt of his own on No. 10. Holmes ran in the long birdie putt on the next hole for a two-shot lead, and he stayed in control the rest of the way.