HUMBLE, Texas – J.B. Holmes has been knocking on the door for weeks.
First came San Diego. Then came Miami.
This time, Holmes broke the door down by bombing his way around the Golf Club of Houston, firing the low round of the day and emerging from a three-man playoff to win the Shell Houston Open.
The victory is the fourth of his career, his second in less than a year and puts a stamp on the long-hitter as one of the players to watch – both next week at the Masters and beyond.
While Holmes was unable to hold the lead last month at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, squandering a five-shot advantage over Dustin Johnson, his role was reversed in Houston. He began the day six shots behind Jordan Spieth, but was able to move to the top of the standings with an 8-under 64 that he began with five straight birdies.
“I mean, when you got it going, you keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t change anything,” Holmes said. “I thought it was going to take a low number to have a chance.”
On a day when cold rain and shifting winds made scoring difficult, the long-hitting Holmes tied a tournament record with a front-nine 29, at one point amassing a three-shot lead. After 72nd-hole putts from Spieth and Johnson Wagner forced overtime, Holmes was thrust into a familiar situation.
Two months earlier, he had lost a playoff to Jason Day at the Farmers Insurance Open, and six years ago he lost in extra time to Paul Casey at this same event. This time around, he came out on top.
The key, he explained, was a commitment to “staying present.”
“Just focus one shot at a time,” Holmes said. “I know you say that, but really it’s that simple and that difficult.”
Holmes has been working with sports psychologist Jim Murphy for two years, and he credits their work on his mental game as the difference in his emergence this season, a campaign that now includes four top-10 finishes in his last six starts.
“Just mentally, 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,” he said. “Focus on the things I can control. I can go out every day and have fun. I can do my routines properly, and I can try to stay present the 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.”
Holmes checked off every box with his final-round effort, which was two shots clear of the rest of the field on a dreary afternoon. Longtime caddie Brandon Parsons saw that his boss was ready from the opening tee shot.
“I think that he was just comfortable,” Parsons said. “We weren’t really trying to do anything differently, we were just breathing well, staying present in the moment, and just continued that all day.”
Spieth, who began the day with a one-shot lead, quickly took notice of the round Holmes was compiling ahead of him.
“What a round of golf,” said Spieth, who was eliminated on the first extra hole. “That’s an incredible round of golf today given the conditions, the rain and mist and the course is playing longer, which doesn’t mean anything to him. I was aware.”
Holmes won when Wagner’s six-foot par putt lipped out on the second extra hole. He was quick to point out that while his 64 yielded the desired result, it wasn’t even his best round of the season – that would be his 10-under 62 last month at Trump National Doral.
Despite a number of close calls in recent weeks, most notably in Miami, Holmes has had no trouble focusing on the positives from those results while rocketing to a career-best position in the world rankings.
“Those are great weeks when I got runner-up,” he said. “Anytime you get a chance to win, I just looked at it as a great week, and I’ve got to keep getting up there and get in position to have a chance to win.”
Holmes admitted that he didn’t tee off today expecting to win, but once the opportunity arose he didn’t pass it up. Now he heads to the Masters for just the second time, and first time since 2008, with unbridled momentum.
“Just to be able to walk around that place is pretty amazing,” Holmes said. “I’m really excited to get there and play. My game is in good shape right now, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Holmes’ game has been in “good shape” for a while. The only difference now is that he has the trophy to prove it.