CHARLOTTE, N.C. — | J.B. Holmes is one of the many athletes who give credit to a higher power when they’re successful or have good fortune grace them.
Holmes has reason to give thanks.
Less than three years removed from a pair of brain surgeries, and about a year removed from a broken ankle and elbow surgery, J.B. Holmes is a PGA Tour champion again.
Holmes earned his third win on tour and first in six years with a 1-under-par 71 Sunday in the final round of the 12th Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club. He built a three-shot lead and withstood a pair of bogeys in his final three holes to hang on for a one-shot win over Jim Furyk at 14-under 274.
“The Lord was with me all week,” Holmes said. “I leaned on him and definitely know that I can’t do it by myself. I tried that for a few years, so now I’m asking him for help, and it worked out this week for me, and it was a lot of fun.”
Holmes’ other two victories on tour are the 2006 and ’08 Waste Management Phoenix Opens. Whether he’d ever earn another one was the least of his worries for awhile.
The 32-year-old Kentucky native and University of Kentucky graduate experienced vertigo symptoms for much of 2011 and was diagnosed that fall with structural defects in the cerebellum known as Chiari malformations.
He had two brain surgeries. The first was to remove a quarter-sized piece of his skull that he still keeps in a closet at his Orlando home, and another because of an allergic reaction to the adhesive on the titanium plate at the base of his skull.
He returned for the 2012 season, but a broken ankle from a rollerblade mishap and surgery to relieve tennis elbow last year further derailed his career.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” Holmes said. “I’ve had some ups and downs. It’s a great feeling to be out here and get one done.”
Holmes began the final round with a one-shot lead at 13 under, and though he bogeyed the par-3 second hole to fall into a tie for the lead with playing partner Martin Flores, he never relinquished it as Flores bogeyed the third and fourth holes and shot a 72 that included a chip-in eagle on the 10th hole to finish two back and alone in third.
“Losing leaves a pretty sour taste,” said Flores, who was seeking his first PGA Tour win in his 100th event. “I really wanted to win. But, you know, I got in the mix and I loved every second of it. I can’t wait to get back there.”
Holmes scrambled well Sunday. He saved par after a tee shot well left of the green on the par-3 sixth, got back to 13 under with a birdie on the short par-4 eighth hole, saved par on the ninth after his tee shot was on pine straw amongst trees, and birdied the par-5 10th with a chip to 4 feet and par-4 11th with a 33-foot putt after a drive into trees to the left of the fairway.
Holmes opened up a three-stoke lead at 16 under by getting up-and-down for birdie from the side of the par-5 15th green.
Following a bogey on the 16th that dropped his lead to two shots, Holmes holed a key 9-foot par putt to maintain his two-shot edge heading to the difficult 498-yard closing hole, allowing him to make bogey after a drive into trees to the right, a second shot short of the green, chip to 45-feet and 3-foot bogey putt.
“Nobody is comfortable on those last three holes. You can have disasters there,” Holmes said. “… That [putt on 17] was huge. It gave me a two-shot lead going into the last hole, and that was big. I felt comfortable over that putt and I felt I was going to make it.”
Furyk posted a 13-under 275 following fireworks in the middle of his back nine, as he holed a 10-foot birdie putt on 13, 11-foot birdie putt on 14 and chipped in from 60 feet for eagle on the 15th. After completing his Sunday-best 65, he waited two hours to see if Holmes would back up to him.
Two-time PGA Tour winner Jason Bohn made six birdies and an eagle through 15 holes to overcome three bogeys and reach 14 under and pull within a shot of Holmes’ lead. Bohn birdied holes 5-7 and found magic just after the turn with a hole-out from 95 yards for an eagle on the 10th, 16-foot putt to save par on 11 and chip-in from 40 feet for birdie on the 12th.
But after being warned for slow play on the 16th hole, he hooked his tee shot on the treacherous par-3 17th into the water and made double bogey. He finished alone in fourth, three behind Holmes, for his third top-four finish this season.
“On 17 I didn’t feel that comfortable with the wind starting to gust up a little bit, and I went ahead and hit it anyhow in a situation that I probably would have backed off in,” Bohn said. “So I’m more disappointed in myself and the way that I handled that than the golf shots that I hit. It’s hard. I hit a crappy one. It is what it is.”
Phil Mickelson began the final round alone in third and two shots back following a third-round 63, but made just one birdie on the 13th hole and fell into a tie for 11th after a 76.
Holmes has proven to be a good front runner, having won three of the four tournaments he has held a 54-hole lead. “I’ve just been able to seize the opportunities when I’ve gotten up there, and today I was able to hang in there,” Holmes said.
Holmes returned for the 2013-14 season on a major medical extension in late January. He had 19 starts to earn $580,299 to retain his exempt status this year, and hit the mark in his 10th event with a tie for 11th last week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The win is Holmes’ fourth consecutive top-20.
A complete break from golf for five months last year after the ankle injury and elbow surgery invigorated Holmes’ desire for the game. “It was great,” Holmes said. “I hadn’t done that in forever, maybe ever. I was in a bad spot when all of that happened. I was unhappy with the way things were going and that kind of game me a break, literally, and gave me time off from golf and let me reevaluate.
“It ended up being a really good thing for me. I probably wouldn’t be here if I wouldn’t have broken my ankle last year.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.