A blustery day and a Blue Monster stalled the field at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship into late afternoon Saturday. Leader J.B. Holmes couldn’t make a birdie — but he did make an eagle — yet held the same two-shot lead he did after the second round as he went to the 14th tee.
Rain beat down steadier. It seemed like the last groups would be lucky to get in under par for the final five holes. Suddenly, as the course got wetter, Holmes got hotter and ran away from the field.
A four-birdie streak and a closing bogey left Holmes at 2-under-par 70 for the day, 11-under 205 for the tournament and five shots up on Dustin Johnson (69) and Bubba Watson (70), who are at 6-under 210.
Johnson and Holmes made the fans and marshals around the par-3 No.4 the most ecstatic people in town with hole-in-ones minutes apart. Watson jumped into a tie with Johnson with a birdie on the par-4 18th, and Johnson and Holmes joined the group of seven in the top 11 who bogeyed it.
Ryan Moore, in second place to Holmes after the first and second rounds, fought off a rough first 14 holes to eagle the par-4 16th and close in fourth place at 5-under 211 after a 2-over 74.
You have to go back to 2002, when Ernie Els held an eight-shot lead over Tiger Woods and Peter Lonard, to find such a three-round lead at Doral. Nobody has ever lost a three-round lead that big at Doral.
“This golf course, you can make some big numbers, so you’ve got to plan to be safe and hit on sides of the pin. But if you get a wedge in your hand, you’ve got to try to make a birdie,” Holmes said. “I’m not going to change my game plan.”
Said Johnson, “This golf course is tough, so put some pressure early and you never know what will happen.”
Said Watson, “I can’t worry about what J.B. is doing. This golf course is hard enough as it is. If I start worry about other people, I’m going to lose it.”
As Holmes noted, bogeys can come fast. On Friday, Charley Hoffman went from within one shot of the lead to way off with a quadruple bogey on the par-3, 227-yard No. 4. On Saturday, Moore and Holmes went to the tee on No. 3 tied for the lead at 8-under. By the time they went to No. 5, Holmes held a five-shot lead on Moore and four-shot lead on the rest of the field.
First, Moore triple bogeyed the par-4 No. 3 with he said, “a horrible tee shot, followed by a worse pitch out, followed by an even worse third shot that went into the water.”
As Holmes prepared to hit his drive on No. 3, a giant roar from the fourth green signaled happiness up on the hill. That was Johnson’s hole-in-one. Two groups later, Holmes bounced his in, putting smiles and hops in the steps of everyone on either side of the No. 4 ropes.
But, otherwise, Holmes saved pars, missed birdies and bogeyed two par-5s, Nos. 1 and 12, and the par-4 seventh. The bogey on 12 cut his lead over Johnson down to two.
“I was leading. I felt like I was fine,” Holmes said. “I knew when the wind was getting ready to turn down, you could get to 16. I thought you might be able to get a couple birdies going in. You want to make some birdies, but I definitely wasn’t planning on making four. I was just trying to get one or make some pars, you know, I did have the lead and was just out there just trying to play one shot at a time.”
He sank a birdie putt over 12 feet of rolling green: 9-under. A 13-footer on the par-3 15th fell to restore his three-shot lead over Johnson, who had just birdied No. 16. He used a 3-wood to drive his 16th tee shot into the bunker just beyond the green, nearly holed the chip and tapped in for birdie. An 11-footer on 17 finished the run in the rain.
The pivotal day of an event with players born in the American South atop the leaderboard played out in dampness more often associated with England.
“When they get some water on the greens and stuff, when they have been firm like this, it’s going to skip a little bit more,” Holmes said. “You’re not going to be able to spin the ball as much, so you have to play with a little bit more bounce. Then, you’ve got the possibility that the ball could jump on you because you get water in between the club. It turns into a little bit more of a guessing game. You just have to play a little bit safer.”
On Saturday, Holmes guessed himself right into a comfortable Sunday position.
1. J.B. Holmes
T2. Dustin Johnson
T2. Bubba Watson
4. Ryan Moore
T5. Bill Haas
T5. Louis Oosthuizen
T5. Henrik Stenson
Final round: 8:40 a.m.
Sunday; TV: GOLF, 1 p.m.;
NBC, 3 p.m.