J.B. Holmes takes lead, record on opening day at Doral

J.B. Holmes drives his ball from 8th tee in the first round of the World Golf Classic-Cadillac Championships at Trump National Doral, in Doral, Florida on March 5, 2015.
J.B. Holmes drives his ball from 8th tee in the first round of the World Golf Classic-Cadillac Championships at Trump National Doral, in Doral, Florida on March 5, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Former longtime heavyweight champion Larry Holmes never won a first round as decisively as J.B. Holmes won Round 1 of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship on Thursday.

Trump National Doral’s Blue Monster battered some confidence out of the world’s No. 1 player, Rory McIlroy, while squashing the average round score to 73.4 on the par 72 course. The 18th and 14th holes taunted the world’s best players with their minimal margins of error. Yet Holmes — whose health problems, including brain surgery, kept him from even qualifying for WGC events from 2010-2015 — shot an event-record 10-under 62 to take a four-shot lead on Ryan Moore.

Holmes’ first competitive round at Doral since 2010 tied Bubba Watson’s second-round 62 in 2012 for the course record, as well as the Cadillac Championship record — Watson in 2012, Sergio Garcia and Retief Goosen in 2002’s final round at Mount Juliet Conrad.

“I hit a lot of good shots today, and pretty much on every hole, I put the ball below the hole where I had a chance to make a putt,” Holmes said. “Even out here, it’s tough to make some putts, and if you can get below the hole, you have a better chance. Even if it’s 25 feet, you have a better chance of making that than a 10- or 15-footer downhill.”

The record stomping of the Blue Monster didn’t prevent Holmes from saying in all seriousness, “It’s just a tough golf course, so if I go out and shoot even or 1-under tomorrow, that would be a good round. It’s hard to back these days up. So I’ll just try to go out there with no expectations tomorrow and play. Expectations usually kill, so if I think I’m going to shoot 10 tomorrow, it could happen, but the percentages are extremely low.”

Certainly after Patrick Reed’s 4-under 284 won last year, nobody expected such a round at 10-under. Those kinds of rounds were believed to be in the course’s past, before last year’s redesign and this year’s tweaking.

“It’s a really tough golf course,” Moore said. “Obviously with wind, it just makes it that much more difficult. I think it’s fair. It’s a very fair golf course, and if you do hit the right shots and put it in the right place, you can have birdie chances.”

“Before this, I didn’t care for it at all,” Holmes said. “One of my least favorite tracks on Tour. It was just too easy. I felt like for a World Golf Championship, 22-under winning really shouldn’t happen.”

Starting on the par-5 10th, Holmes got to 4-under after three holes with two birdies and an eagle on the par-5 12th.

“Hit a great drive down the middle,” Holmes said. “My caddy and I were just saying it’s really tough to get something to stop on this green. So we were really trying to maybe hit it in that front bunker, and he had the cover right on, it was 216. I said, ‘Well, if I start to fight at the bunker and hit it good, it might cover. If it does, it could be pretty good.’”

And so it did, to within 11 inches, a tap-in eagle. Just as important were the plethora of tap-in pars that kept Holmes to one of the three bogey-free rounds. The longest putt he had for par all day — “by about 5 feet,” he estimated — was the 8-footer on No. 9.

Holmes spent most of the day running from the field with Moore, who ran off six birdies in seven holes using a putter that he said has been sitting unused in his house for four years.

“I have a lot of putters,” Moore said. “I think we all do, sitting around our house over the years of tinkering and grabbing stuff here and there. I went through the room and kind of picked up a bunch of different putters until one just kind of felt comfortable and felt like I kind of relaxed. I was just trying to find something to get everything just kind of relaxed and just feel like I’m rolling the ball, rolling it with my hand.”

The two shared the lead at 8-under par when Moore put his tee shot on the par-4 18th into the water, the start of a double bogey. Moore said that with the mini forest of palm trees on the right and the water lurking on the left, even as well as he was playing, he considered laying up off the tee with a five-iron or four-iron then laying up with a wedge.

Holmes said of No. 18: “You’ve just got to hit a great drive. If you don’t, you’re pretty much making bogey.”

He made par after a great drive.

Hole of the Day

That would be No. 18, the Blue Monster’s signature hole, a diabolical par-4 finishing challenge of 476 yards. Water on the left, trees on the right. Pick your downfall. On Thursday, the 18th kicked some golfer butt. Stroke average of 4.603. Of No. 18, defending champion Patrick Reed, who bogeyed it, said sarcastically, “The fairway is five yards wide and it’s blowing 30 into the wind.”

Player of the Day

J.B. Holmes . . . say the name 10 times and you will have how many strokes under par Holmes was. Holmes’ performance was a rare taming of the Blue Monster. Playing the back nine first he started birdie, birdie, eagle. He added birdies on holes 16 and 17. Then, on the front, he had four birdies and five pars. Nary a bogey to be seen. Nice job, J.B., and enjoy the tournament lead.

Shot of the Day

No. 12 is a 601-yard par-5 with a green surrounded by traps. J.B. Holmes ripped his drive beautifully some 376 yards down the fairway. That was nice, J.B., but that is not the Shot of the Day. Your next swing will receive that honor. Holmes took out a 6-iron and let loose with a shot that cleared the trap and rolled directly toward the pin . . . exactly 11 inches from the pin. Tap-in and eagle.

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