Scottsdale, Ariz. — J.B. Holmes roared through the fan-packed closing stretch at TPC Scottsdale on his opening nine Friday, then grabbed the lead on the mellower side of golf’s biggest party.
Six months after a final-round collapse and slow-play controversy at the British Open, Holmes took a one-stroke lead into the weekend at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He shot a 6-under 65, a day after making a hole-in-one in an opening 64.
“There’s going to be a lot of people. It’s going to be really loud,” Holmes said. “Just keep doing what I’ve been doing, hopefully, keep making putts and not change the strategy. It’s worked pretty good so far.”
In July at Royal Portrush, Holmes had a share of the second-round lead with winner Shane Lowry, then shot 69-87 to tie for 67th. The setback spoiled an otherwise successful season highlighted by an early victory at Riviera.
The 37-year-old from Kentucky got away from the game during the offseason, playing only two rounds in four months leading into the new year. He shook off the rust at Kapalua and got back in form last week at Torrey Pines with a tie for 16th.
Holmes played a five-hole stretch on his first nine in 5 under with birdies on the par-5 13th and 15th and par-3 16th, and an eagle on the short par-4 17th. He made a 16-footer from the back fringe on the stadium 16th, then drove to 6½ to set up the eagle on the 319-yard 17th.
“I was just worried about it maybe going too far left,” Holmes said. “But when I hit it, I thought I hit it about right and hopefully it would hit into that bank or bounce just up and it did.”
He bogeyed the par-4 18th and took the lead from Wyndham Clark with birdies on the par-4 first and par-5 third. Holmes chipped in for birdie on the par-4 sixth and gave back the stroke on the par-4 ninth after hitting into a greenside bunker.
“Hit it really good in the middle of the round,” Holmes said. “Didn’t hit it quite as good toward the end, but putted really well and was able to make some birdies.”
Holmes won at TPC Scottsdale in 2006 and 2008 for the first of his five PGA Tour titles.
“That was when I just came out, so I could move it a little bit better,” Holmes said. “I still get it out there, but the golf course has changed more than anything. Like, 12 holes are different.”
Clark was second, following a career-best 61 with a 69. He finished with birdies on 17 and 18.
“It was kind of a rough start. I was all over the place,” Clark said. “I didn’t feel great with my swing, but then I kind of hit two good shots on eight and nine that led to the back side.”
Bill Horschel was third at 11 under after rounds of 63 and 68. He eagled No. 3 for the second straight day.
“I’ve just hit really good fairway woods in there,” Horschel said. “Hit a perfect 5-wood in there yesterday and today was a perfect high, cut, soft 3-wood into that green and landed it in the only soft spot I guess there is on that green early in the morning when the greens are rock hard.”
Byeong Hun An also was 11 under, holing a 20-foot birdie putt in fading light on 18 for a 66.
Scott Piercy was 10 under after a 65. He had a hole-in-one on the 194-yard seventh and eagled 13.
“Whenever you make a hole-in-one in Phoenix it’s pretty awesome,” Piercy said. “But I just did it on the wrong side where everybody didn’t see it.”
Jon Rahm was 7 under after a 68. After five straight birdies, he bogeyed two of the last three.
“Frustrated is a very light way of putting it right now,” Rahm said. “I put a great swing on five birdies, playing great golf, and then just an absolutely terrible finish.”
The former Arizona State star can jump from No. 3 to No. 1 in the world with a victory, provided top-ranked Brooks Koepka – tied for 39th in the Saudi International — finishes out of the top four.
Defending champion Rickie Fowler rebounded from an opening 74 with a 65 to get to 6 under. He eagled the par-5 13th and 15th.
“Just put myself in play and was able to just work my way around the golf course,” Fowler said.
Fourth-ranked Justin Thomas was 6 under after his second straight 68.
Jordan Spieth missed the cut with rounds of 74 and 69.
“Historically, I’ve had a really hard time putting, reading these greens and it just continued this week,” Spieth said. “Felt like I put good strokes on it and then I would look up and I missed them by like a foot off line. But overall I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made off the tee. That was the best I’ve driven the ball in a couple years.”
Stephen Ames shot a 3-under 69 to take a three-stroke lead into the final round of the PGA Tour Champions’ Morocco Champions.
Ames had a 12-under 132 total at Samanah Golf Club in the senior tour’s first event in Africa. He matched the course record with a 63 on Thursday for a four-stroke lead.
“Not a bad day. I played nice today,” Ames said. “Wasn’t as much wind as yesterday on the back nine, but I think overall the pins were tucked a little bit more, obviously. But overall I think the golf course played very fair and the setup of the golf course by the officials was nicely done.”
Victor Perez birdied four of his last six holes to shoot a second straight 5-under 65 and take a one-stroke lead after the second round of the Saudi International.
The French golfer maintained his great form on the European Tour that has seen him finish outside the top 20 just once since winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in September for his first title, climbing to No. 41 in the ranking in the process.
Gavin Green of Malaysia, who shared the lead with Graeme McDowell after a first-round 64, was Perez’s nearest rival at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club after shooting 67.
McDowell (68) was a shot further back.
Green and Perez will play in the final group on Saturday on the course next to the Red Sea and they know each other well, having been roommates at the University of New Mexico for four years.
“I’m sure we will talk about some stuff. It’s been a couple years,” said Green, who is ranked No. 197. “I know he’s been playing really good. Just have fun with him tomorrow.”
Seeking to successfully defend the title, Dustin Johnson is only five shots off the lead after shooting 68 to follow up his first-round 67. He was tied for eighth.
Phil Mickelson, another big name to commit to the tournament despite criticism of the tour coming to a country with its record of human-rights violations, shot 70 and was one stroke further back.
Rory McIlroy said last month that the country’s image was a factor in declining his invitation and a reported $2.5 million appearance fee.
The 55-year-old naturalized Canadian citizen from Trinidad won the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric in 2017 for his lone senior title. He won four times on the PGA Tour.
“Anytime you have a chance to win against the field that we have here this week, yeah, it’s a nice opportunity,” Ames said. “I’m going to take it as it comes, learn from it and hopefully everything comes out the way I expect it to be.”