SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – J.B. Holmes took a unique route to the top of the leaderboard at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
While several contenders posted rounds that included a mix of pars and birdies on a calm day at TPC Scottsdale, Holmes’ scorecard boasted plenty of color. In the first five holes alone he ran the gamut: one eagle, one birdie, one par, one bogey and one double bogey, all just to get back to even.
“The first five holes were up there. Quite a bit of roller coaster,” Holmes said. “Unfortunately, I’ve had nines and stuff like that before.”
The eagle came on the par-3 fourth hole, where Holmes found the target with a 7-iron from 175 yards for a hole-in-one. After his eventful start, he got on track in a big way by knocking in birdies on seven of his final 10 holes. It all added up to a 7-under 64 and an early one-shot lead as he looks to win this event for the third time after leaving with the trophy in both 2006 and 2008.
“I like playing in the desert. It’s just, I just enjoy being here,” Holmes said. “So when you get to a place where you have a lot of good memories, you just already go in with a little more confidence than you do at other tournaments.”
Holmes beat a star-studded field last year at Riviera, but that proved to be a rare highlight during an otherwise difficult season. He struggled with form throughout the summer, and his T-16 finish last week at Torrey Pines is his best result in the 11 months since his Genesis victory.
The 37-year-old has dealt with a chronic elbow injury for years, and he played Thursday’s opening round with KT tape along his right arm. He shared that part of his turnaround resulted from his trainer coming onto the course and massaging his ailing arm as he walked from the ninth tee to the 10th green. Holmes then went on to shoot a 6-under 30 on the inward half.
“Still hurt a little bit, but not as much,” Holmes said. “I putted really well on the back. Hit it in good spots and made some good putts.”
Holmes’ ace was his sixth overall, but his fourth in competition. If recent trends are any indication, he’ll likely contend through the weekend: his most recent hole-in-one came during the opening round last year at Riviera en route to victory, and the ace before that was at the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. He finished second that week.