Posted on: March 25, 2011 6:50 pm

Masters hopefuls head opposite directions

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The last-gasp chances of two Masters hopefuls headed in decidedly opposite directions this week when Italy's Matteo Manassero missed the cut and American J.B. Holmes improved his standing to keep his hopes alive.

Manassero, attempting to become the first player to tee it up at the Masters two times before turning 18, struggled for the second day in a row at the Bay Hill Invitational and shot 3-over 75, missing the cut by a stroke.

This one might sting -- he played his last five holes in 2 over. A day earlier, he was playing nicely in high winds in the afternoon, but double-bogeyed the 18th hole.

Holmes, ranked No. 59 in the world, needs to move inside the top 50 by Sunday night to secure his second Masters berth. He shot a 3-under 69 and moved into a tie for 17th. Though it's been hard to estimate specifically where Holmes must finish because of the many moving parts involved with the fate of other players around him in the rankings, he more than likely needs a top-7 finish to have any chance.

At the halfway point, Holmes is seven strokes behind leader Martin Laird, but only four strokes out of a tie for fourth.

Posted on: March 24, 2011 7:19 pm

Masters hopefuls dig early holes at Bay Hill

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The two players searching for last-minute invitations to the Masters have some heavy lifting ahead.

Matteo Manassero and J.B. Holmes, who entered the week ranked No. 55 and 59 in the world rankings, must crack the top 50 when the rankings are recalculated after play in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational concludes on Sunday.

Holmes shot a 1-over 73 and is tied for 31st, while the 17-year-old Manassero double-bogeyed the 18th hole to shoot 74, which left him at T31. Manassero is seeking to become the first player to twice play in the Masters before turning 18, tournament officials said. He made the cut last year at age 16 and finished T30.

Despite what is being reported on the air, those who administer the world ranking in London said the minimum finish required of both players is almost impossible to determine because there are so many variables in play.

Thursday, the OWGR numbers-crunchers said Manassero could crack the top 50 by finishing between 13th and 24th this week, while Holmes can finish between fifth and seventh and have a chance. There are so many players ranked just ahead or behind them playing at Bay Hill this week that plotting the permutations is difficult.

It can't be a whole lot of fun for the duo to look at some of the results Thursday from other players stationed ahead of them in the rankings from lesser tours, like Japan's Yuta Ikeda, the 48th-ranked player in the world. Ikeda shot 84 with an 11 on the sixth hole and in five PGA Tour starts this year has finished T62, lost in the first round of Match Play, missed the cut at the Honda Classic, finished T55 at Doral, and is virtually assured of missing the cut at Bay Hill. 
Category: Golf
Posted on: February 26, 2011 2:59 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2011 3:03 pm

Holmes finds familiar taste of defeat in desert

MARANA, Ariz. -- Unfortunately, J.B. Holmes has been here, done that.

Almost to the letter.

In 2008, he was also the lowest-seeded player in the Accenture Match Play field outside Tucson, so he drew world No. 1 Tiger Woods in his opening match and jumped to a 3-up lead with five to play. Woods, in one of the most memorable rallies of his career, reeled in Holmes and won.

However, Saturday's defeat is going to leave an even bigger mark.

Holmes all but destroyed quarterfinal foe Bubba Watson on the front nine at Dove Mountain, jumping to a 5-up lead after 10 holes, but collapsed in the cactus on the back nine and ultimately lost on the 19th hole in the most prominent weekend meltdown in the tournament's 12-year history.

Holmes, who had been on a terrific run after making the field the day before the event was staged thanks to the withdrawal of two other players, had repeated chances to put Watson away, but spent most of the final two hours of the match meandering through creosote, cholla and other prickly desert plants.

"You've gotta play all 18 holes," Holmes said. "I didn't finish it off."

The last hole of regulation and first hole of overtime took about an hour to complete, as Holmes needed three rulings after hitting shots into the rock-strewn desert.

Holmes conceded the 11th and 14th holes, though he was still comfortably ahead, 2 up. Watson had birdies on Nos. 13 and 1. Suddenly, Holmes was just trying to keep his head above water.

Meanwhile, Watson's caddie Ted Scott was trying to pump up his boss, who seemed as dead as desert carrion about two hours after the match started.

"My caddie kept saying, 'You're playing great, you're playing great all week," Watson said. "Just keep doing your thing. If he beats you, he beats you.  If you make birdie and he beats you, what can you do?'"

Even on the 19th hole, after Watson had sent his tee ball into the desert and Holmes had an opening, he sent another ball sideways into the gunch and had to take an unplayable-lie penalty. Watson won the hole and the match with a par.

Holmes tried to put a happy spin on the week, which began with him kicking back in Orlando, thinking he was getting a few days off.

"It's golf, it happens," Holmes said. "I'll take it as a good week but obviously I'm disappointed by the finish."

Category: Golf
Posted on: February 26, 2011 10:41 am

Holmes attacks Accenture with sledgehammer

MARANA, Ariz. -- Bubba Watson started the week ranked first on the PGA Tour in driving distance.

Right now, he's No. 2 in his Saturday twosome.

With a jaw-dropping poke of 413 yards on the second hole of the Accenture Match Play quarterfinals at Dove Mountain, opponent J.B. Holmes authored the longest drive of the tour season to date.

In fact, with the fourth matches just underway, Holmes has smashed six of the seven longest drives of the week among the 64 players in the field, with all of them measuring 370 yards or more. Three went 400-plus yards.

Measuring all drives, Holmes is averaging 328.7 yards off the tee. Dry desert air and 2,500 feet of elevation or not, that's some serious poking right there.

Can Holmes, the lowest-ranked player in the field at No. 66, win this thing? He's a bit of an Arizona desert fox. His two career victories came at the Phoenix Open, located about 120 miles to the north.
Category: Golf
Posted on: February 26, 2011 10:12 am

Watson pumps out bombs, barbs

MARANA, Ariz. -- Bubba Watson is one of the edgiest players in the game, a guy who talks a mile a minute and has a million things careening through his noggin at any given time.

David Feherty once called him, "jumpier than a box of frogs."

So when Watson arrived on the driving range Saturday at dawn before his quarterfinal match in the Accenture Match Play Championship, already talking like he'd ingested a gallon of java for breakfast, it was no surprise at all.

Shooting the breeze freely with fourth-round foe J.B. Holmes, Watson was certainly in rare form as he and Holmes bashed practice balls into the cactus situated at the far end of the Dove Mountain range. For instance, when world No. 2 Martin Kaymer wandered past on the way to the tee for his quarterfinal match, Watson noticed that the Germanator was wearing a scarf around his neck. 

"Is that to keep you cool out there," Watson teased.

"Maybe he pulls it up around his nose," Watson's caddie, Ted Scott, said.

It might prove useful in a sandstorm, it was noted. High winds are in the Saturday forecast.

"I think they give you one of those when you play Abu Dhabi," Watson cracked.

Somehow, Watson ended up talking about the Blue Angels, which are based near where he's from in the Florida Panhandle. He noted that he was given a flight suit by a high school friend who had seen active duty in Iraq.

"I put it on," Watson said. "But he's a midget, so ...."

Watson noted that he stitched put his own surname on the flight suit.

"It's game-used," he cracked. "So it's more valuable that way."

Category: Golf
Posted on: February 25, 2011 6:24 pm

Big boppers Holmes, Watson draw eyeballs, gasps

MARANA, Ariz. -- Those planning on attending the Accenture Match Play Championship on Saturday better pack more than just sunscreen in order to enjoy the day to maximal effect.

Bring your laser rangefinders, too.

While the majority of the biggest names have exited, the biggest hitters have not.

In fact, if what almost certainly will draw the biggest crowds of the day, Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes will meet in the quarterfinals Saturday.

They rank first and third in driving distance, averaging over 310 yards a bop off the tee.

"It should be fun," Holmes said. "We both move it out there pretty good."

Uh, yeah.

Holmes reached a par-5 this week with a driver and 8-iron, and Watson eagled a par-5 on Friday when he hit a 286-yard 3-iron. Holes laughed when it was playfully asked whether they might get sidetracked by an adrenaline showdown.

"I think we're both past that at this point in our careers," Holmes said. "Maybe when we were 16."

For those who understand the technical side, Holmes (125.3) and Watson (123.8) rank first and second in clubhead speed, well in excess of the tour average.
Category: Golf
Posted on: February 25, 2011 3:52 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2011 5:22 pm

Why bombers own the world (and we are renters)

MARANA, Ariz. -- In terms of the best shots of the week, they must be running 1-2 or pretty close to it.

Having already hit one of the most memorable blows of the year when he hit a scorching slice onto the 18th green at Kapalua with a driver from the fairway, Bubba Watson authored another indelible shot Friday at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Starrting to pull away from two-time Accenture winner Geoff Ogilvy, Watson hit a scorching 3-iron from 286 yards on the par-5 11th that scooted to within 15 feet for what was eventually a conceded eagle and a 3-up lead.

Fellow ball masher J.B. Holmes hit an equally impressive nuclear approach with an iron from the rock-strewn desert at the par-5 second hole. A 347-yard drive left him with 206 to the green, but there was a small desert plant directly behind his ball.

Holmes and his caddie Brandan Parsons tried for several minutes to figure out which direction the ball might go, since clean contact was going to be difficult. They decided to take dead aim and Holmes blew the ball through a creosote bush and to within 34 feet, where he made an easy birdie.

"When in doubt, play it straight," Holmes laughed as he walked to the green.

With the dry desert air and mountains -- the course is set at an estimated 2,500 feet in elevation -- the bashers are really having fun.
Category: Golf
Posted on: February 23, 2011 4:04 pm

Holmes gets physical: 'I killed that one.'

MANANA, Ariz. -- Let's forget for the moment that the Accenture Match Play Championship is being held in the thin desert air, at an elevation in excess of 2,000 feet.

J.B. Holmes, and a few of his ball-mashing brethren, are playing a game with which few mortals are familiar.

Holmes, who dismantled 2010 semifinalist Camilo Villegas 4 and 2 on Wednesday, used his distinct power advantage to maximum effect on the 13th, a 573-yard par 5.

Get this: After whalloping a drive of 372 yards, he knocked an 8-iron to 14 feet and rolled in the putt for eagle. He birdied Nos. 15 and 16 to send Villegas home.

"I hit it really good," Holmes said. "I looked at my caddie and said, 'I killed that.'"

The 8-iron to 14 feet from 202 yards wasn't bad, either. He took a 3-up lead with the eagle and cruised in for his first match-play win. He was eliminated in the first round in his only other appearance, in 2008.
Category: Golf
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