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Kentucky Native J.B. Holmes Leads The PGA Championship

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - J.B. Holmes always knew he
could hit the golf ball a long way.
He made his high school team in Kentucky when he was in the
third grade. He was hitting 300-yard tee shots at age 13, and when
he went to the Masters in 1998 as a senior in high school to watch
Tiger Woods for the first time, it wasn't the least bit
overwhelming.
"I realized the pros don't hit it any further than I do,"
Holmes said.
His monster length proved to be more than enough for Oakland
Hills on Friday.
With a black glove on his hand and a scowl on his face, Holmes
hammered one tee shot after another - one of them he estimated at
about 400 yards - and kept most of them in the short grass, leading
to a 2-under 68 for a one-shot lead in the PGA Championship.
Holmes was at 1-under 139, the only player to break par over two
rounds on a course known as "The Monster." It was the first time
since 1972 - at Oakland Hills, not so coincidentally - that only
one player was under par through 36 holes of the PGA Championship.
"When I hit my driver like I did today, this is an easy
sport," Holmes said.
It sure didn't feel easy to anyone else.
Sergio Garcia four-putted the 17th green late in the second
round just as he was trying to catch Holmes, and instead dropped to
a 73 and was three shots behind. Phil Mickelson struggled with a
few bad drives, a few poor chips and not many putts, making three
bogeys over the final five holes for a 73 that left him four shots
behind.
Colin Montgomerie found nothing easy about Oakland Hills. He had
to play his best golf over the closing holes to avoid his worst
score as a professional, salvaging an 84 to match his worst score
ever in a major.
The final major is so hard that Garcia predicted no one would be
under par when it was time to hoist the trophy.
"I don't think it's going to be won by 1 under par," Garcia
said. "I just need to make sure that I stay around where I am and
maybe a little closer to par. That's going to have a chance on
Sunday."
Ben Curtis, who on Thursday said only one player would like
Oakland Hills by the end of the week, got along just fine Friday
with a 67, matching Justin Rose with the best score of the
tournament and leaving both of them one shot behind at even-par
140.
"It's the kind of round I've been looking for to get myself
back on the leaderboard and feeling the good vibes," Rose said.
They were joined by Charlie Wi, a 36-year-old who has played on
just about every tour, but never in a major championship until this
week. He made his debut with back-to-back 70s and will play in the
final group Saturday with Holmes.
Former PGA champion David Toms (69) and Henrik Stenson of Sweden
(70) were at 1-over 141. The group at 142 included Garcia, former
U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera (72) and Sean O'Hair, who steadied
himself after a double bogey on his opening hole and shot 73.
For the second straight day, only six players broke par.
"When I got here on Tuesday, I called home and I said, 'This is
the hardest golf course I've ever played,"' Wi said. "If I were
to play here every day, I don't know if I would enjoy it. It's a
very difficult golf course."
Wi might see a different course while playing with Holmes.
The 26-year-old from Kentucky put his Paul Bunyan length on
display during a morning of blue skies. It's a wonder some of his
tee shots didn't leave contrails.
He leads the field in driving distance at 338 yards, and that
doesn't include a mammoth tee shot on the 501-yard 14th that left
him only a wedge to the green, where he made a 25-foot putt for his
third straight birdie.
Holmes reached the 529-yard second hole with a wedge for a
two-putt birdie from 12 feet, and he got home in two on the
593-yard 12th with an 8-iron. A stiff breeze was at his back on
that 217-yard shot.
He hit driver on all but four holes.
"I'm not that aggressive if I'm not hitting my driver good,"
Holmes said. "If I'm hitting bad shots with it, you don't hit it
as much. You hit it right where you've looked? Whale away.
"If you're hitting where you're aiming it every time, you're
hitting good."
There were some comparisons to another young player from the
South who hit it a country mile and overwhelmed Crooked Stick in
1991 to win the PGA Championship. But that's about the only
resemblance to John Daly.
Holmes is not the ninth alternate, rather a two-time winner on
the PGA Tour who might have secured a spot on the Ryder Cup team to
be held next month at Valhalla in Kentucky, a course he knows
better than anyone on tour. He lives clean and plays hard. His
swing is compact, the power generated by his lower body.
"My senior year of high school, I went out and watched Tiger,"
Holmes said, referring to a trip to the 1998 Masters. "A lot of
the players, they said hit the ball really long. And they did. I
was like, 'That's not much farther than me, if at all."'
But length isn't everything, especially on the wild greens of
Oakland Hills. Holmes lost two shots off his lead on the closing
holes, with a poor chip on the 15th and a three-putt from across
the long green on the par-3 17th.
Curtis played his final 15 holes without a bogey and is the only
major champion at par or better, even if some still think his
victory at Royal St. George's in 2003 at the British Open was a
fluke. He has won twice more on tour since then.
"I know I can win another one," he said. "It's just a matter
of taking care of the opportunities that I'm given. There's weeks
where you can play your best and not win, and there's weeks where
you can kind of stumble your way in and win."
The stumbling belonged to Mickelson and Garcia, although the
Spaniard chalked it up to one bad hole - or four bad putts - and
bristled when it was suggested that the back nine was a struggle.
"No, it wasn't. It wasn't at all," said Garcia, considered the
best player without a major. "Unfortunately, things didn't happen
for me on the back nine. It's very difficult and this is a major."
Mickelson is perplexed by the raking of grass toward the tee,
which makes it stand firm and led to some poor chips. But he
remained optimistic, and should be. Twenty players were separated
by four shots going into the weekend.
"There's a lot of golf left out here, and the golf course is
very difficult," he said. "So I think that it won't be overly
difficult if you play well to make up some ground."
The cut was at 148, the highest since the gnarly rough of Oak
Hill in 2003. Among the victims were Vijay Singh, who was coming
off his first World Golf Championship last week; and Woody Austin
and Hunter Mahan, who were Nos. 9 and 10 in the U.S. Ryder Cup
standings.


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