Just four weeks and two starts after failing to convert a five-stroke third round lead at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, J.B Holmes came from six back with a round to go to win the Shell Houston Open yesterday. He didn't quite rise from the dead on Easter Sunday but I for one didn't give him much of a chance and nor did the layers - he was matched at a high of 180.0179/1 after Saturday's disappointing 73.
It was a far from straightforward victory and in the end he prevailed over pre-event favourite, Jordan Spieth, and 2008 winner, Johnson Wagner, in a playoff. Spieth was matched at a low of 1.75/7 and Wagner 2.466/4.
J.B Holmes was one of my three pre-event picks so the result was as nice as it was unexpected. As detailed in the in-play blog, I'd been in a good position at halfway, with both Phil Mickelson (also backed before the off) and Holmes in-the-mix but Saturday appeared disastrous as they went backwards with over-par efforts as everyone else moved forward.
I'd given up on them both and written the week off so when Holmes jumped out of the gate with five straight birdies I was merely looking to reduce losses at that stage. I began laying him at as big as 5.95/1 and I layed him right down to as low as 1.75/7 in regulation so the win wasn't as big as it could have been but I'm not complaining for a second.
Once Spieth had bogeyed the first extra hole it made sense to level things off further and I backed Johnson at 2.466/4. And when Holmes hit his approach close, I layed him again - this time at 1.330/100 - so when Wagner missed his par putt from around four feet to hand the title Holmes, it mattered not anyway.
In hindsight, maybe I was a bit too cautious but having backed Wagner only last week at 500.0499/1, I'd have been very frustrated had he won and I hadn't profited handsomely.
What Have We Learned For Next Year?
Given Holmes was the first winner on the PGA Tour to come from six back with a round to go since Matt Jones did so in this event 12 months ago, I think I should dispense with the theory that you need to be up with the pace here to win.
Both results were unique in their own way though. Jones benefited from a really poor finish by Matt Kuchar, who had led by four after 54 holes, and Holmes not only got lucky with the weather, we knew he was capable of such low scoring shenanigans.
Having witnessed his incredible opening 62 in tricky conditions at Trump International, at the WGC - Cadillac International last month, a round fellow pros playing that day could scarcely believe, I knew Holmes was capable of going really low and the fact that rain had softened the course nicely and that he started out way before the leaders was most advantageous.
As the day wore on the air appeared heavier and making birdies wasn't quite as easy as it was when Holmes embarked on his final round. All the stars aligned for Holmes, as they had done for Jones 12 months ago and in the fullness of time, these two results could well be viewed upon as freakish.
It's very often the case that Driving Accuracy means very little nowadays and that's certainly the case at Houston. Holmes ranked dead last for finding fairways (71st out of 71!) but he was red-hot with the putter, making 55 out of 55 putts inside six feet.
The WNB Golf Classic on the Web.com Tour may be worth looking at. It's staged in Midland Texas and two of the last three winners were very much involved here this year. Andrew Putnam, who won the WNB last year and 2012 winner, Luke Guthrie, were both in-the-mix and would have made for terrific trading vehicles.
One last observation, before my full attention is turned to Augusta National, is how well represented Phoenix Open winners were this year. Holmes is a two-time winner at Scottsdale, 2011 Shell winner, Phil Mickelson, has won there three times and Hunter Mahan has also taken both titles in the last five years.
Huge outsider, Mark Wilson, the Phoenix Open winner in 2011, was in-the-mix at halfway, as was Graham DeLaet, who traded at odds-on in Phoenix last year before getting edged out by Kevin Stadler. Both venues have plenty of water in-play, nice wide fairways and little rough and the results certainly suggest they correlate nicely.
I'll be back tomorrow with a look at some of the side markets for the US Masters but in the meantime, here's my preview for the year's first major.
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