Holmes could be a Ryder revelation

Holmes aggressive play paid off with another win at TPC Scottsdale.
Fred Vuich/SI

Phil Mickelson won by losing at the FBR Open on Sunday.

He probably didn't feel that way after his quick sudden-death defeat at the hands of J.B. Holmes in Mickelson's erstwhile hometown of Scottsdale. But Holmes's ultra-macho golf — including a 359-yard drive in the playoff that was punctuated by a preening strut that would rival the greatest hits of Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez — bodes well for Phil and the rest of the presumed U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Somewhere, Paul Azinger is smiling.

"I can play under pressure, I guess," Holmes said after draining an 8-foot birdie putt to put away Mickelson in sudden-death, denying the lefthander his 33rd Tour victory. "I've always tended to do well under pressure, in junior golf and college and everything."

Holmes seems built for the rowdy FBR, where he nabbed his only other Tour victory in 2006, which means he's probably built for a rowdy Ryder Cup. Especially one that will be held at Valhalla in his home state of Kentucky. You'd better believe Zinger's been dreaming of having a local hero on the team — a Bluegrass Bomber in the mold of John Daly to pump up the volume and bring out the U.S. side's "13th man" this September.

"It's probably one of my favorite golf courses," Holmes, 25, said when asked about Valhalla. "I've played it quite a bit. I've played it once or twice since they've redone it, but I've been around it several times."

It's all too perfect; perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves. After all, Holmes won the FBR two years ago and then missed the cut or WD'd in eight of his next 15 starts. Yes, he's fifth in the Ryder Cup standings now, but he came nowhere near getting on the U.S. team that got thumped in Ireland.

But that's immaterial now. For one thing, Holmes has grown up since winning immediately as a rookie.

"I just had a little trouble adjusting to all the traveling out here," he said Sunday. "And I just got married in November, so I'm more settled in life and happier."

Even if he'd played better the rest of his rookie year, he'd have been an unlikely captain's pick. He was too raw, the 2006 Ryder Cup was played a long way from Kentucky, and the U.S. captain, Tom Lehman, had only two wild-card choices at his disposal.

Azinger has four, and he's talked openly about wanting a local player on his team. Born, raised and educated (University of Kentucky) in Kentucky, Holmes is as local as it gets. He's also considerably less risky as a pick after Sunday's revelation. Holmes won the '06 FBR by a touchdown and an extra point, but it would have been hard to predict the Kentuckian's brash, gutsy response to Sunday's playoff pressure. When it was over, even Mickelson called it "impressive golf."

After making bogeys on the 7th, 8th, 10th and 15th holes, Holmes birdied the 18th once to force the playoff and again to win it. That showed a mental toughness that will be hard to forget when Cap'n Paul drafts his team. "I didn't have my best stuff today, and I came through and won," Holmes said. "I didn't give up. I played hard, and when I needed to make it, I did."

His second FBR trophy in three years came on the same Sunday that Tiger Woods shot a 65 at the Dubai Desert Classic to hold off Germany's Martin Kaymer, the 2007 Euro tour rookie of the year. That result, too, may have had Cup implications. Kaymer had won wire-to-wire in Abu Dhabi a week earlier and may have been on his way to thinking he was the next Tiger.

So Mickelson didn't get his 33rd Tour W, and he saw his playoff record drop to 7-3. Big deal. He's already won the FBR on Super Bowl Sunday, in 1996. He didn't do anything overtly wrong, other than par the 18th hole. As losses go, this was one of the better ones.

Depending on the fate of the Kentucky Crusher and the U.S. Ryder Cup team at Valhalla, it may get even better with age.

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