DORAL, Fla. (AP) — J.B. Holmes and Dustin Johnson made aces on the same hole about 20 minutes apart Saturday at Doral, both with a 7-iron from 207 yards and with a shot that reacted almost identically when it landed in the middle of the green and rolled up the slope and into the cup.
Both pounded one 300-yard drive after another on a course where length is a huge advantage. And for a brief moment, they were separated by one shot.
The difference turned out to be the shortest club in the bag.
Holmes found his groove with the putter late in the round that carried him to four straight birdies and expanded his lead in the Cadillac Championship. Even with a bogey on the final hole at Trump National Doral, he had a 2-under 70 and was five shots clear of Johnson (69) and Masters champion Bubba Watson (70).
“All you can really ask for is a chance to win on Sunday on the back nine,” Holmes said.
On a day of two aces, five other eagles on par 4s and even a scuba driver retrieving the 3-iron that Rory McIlroy heaved into the lake the day before, Holmes took some of the drama out of Doral with his late surge.
The last time aces were recorded on the same hole in the same round on the PGA Tour was at Liberty National in 2013 at The Barclays. That was K.J. Choi and Greg Chalmers, and neither was in contention. This was different.
“Pushed it just a hair right,” Johnson said about his hole-in-one on the fourth hole.
“I usually hit a little bit of a cut, and if I hit it perfect, it would stay straight,” Holmes said. “And it did.”
What separated them was the finish. Johnson converted a birdie on the 16th hole to pull within one shot of Holmes, who was struggling. He made his second bogey on a par 5 when he pushed his tee shot into a hazard at No. 12. He had to scramble from a bunker to save par on the 13th. But moments after Johnson made his birdie, Holmes poured in a 12-foot birdie putt on the 14th, the first of four in a row.
Three of those birdies were from 12 feet. The other was an up-and-down from the back bunker on the 301-yard 16th hole.
He ended with a bogey from the palm trees and fell back to 11-under 205. He still had a five-shot lead, and a chance to become the first player to lead wire-to-wire without ties at Doral since Andy Bean in 1977.
“If he keeps driving it, he’s tough to beat,” Ryan Moore said after salvaging a 74 to finish six shots behind. “He’s hitting it long and straight and he’s got clubs in holes that I can only dream of having. As long as he hits it straight in the fairway, he’s obviously got a huge advantage around here.”
It’s not a coincidence that Holmes, Watson and Johnson are in the top three in driving distance this week. Watson managed five birdies, the last one from the back bunker on the daunting closing hole at the Blue Monster. It was his second straight day holing a bunker shot.
“I can’t worry about what J.B. is doing,” Watson said. “This golf course is hard enough as it is. If I start worrying about other people, I’m going to lose it.”
Bill Haas had the low score of the third round, making eight birdies for a 65. He was tied for fifth with Louis Oosthuizen (67) and Henrik Stenson (72), though they were seven shots behind.
McIlroy provided the highlight of this tournament by slinging his 3-iron into the water left of the par-5 eighth hole Friday after a shot into the lake. He opted to play with only 13 clubs in the third round, but back-to-back bogeys on the front nine and back nine kept him from making a move. He had a 72 and was 10 shots behind.
He wasn’t aware of the diver that fished out his 3-iron. He wasn’t aware of Holmes and Johnson making aces, either?
“No way,” McIlroy said. “That’s why I’m not leading the tournament.”
Watson might have had the best view.
He was on the third green when he heard the roar and saw Johnson raise both arms after his 7-iron went in. Then, Watson was heading down the fifth fairway when he heard another road and saw Holmes doing a jig on the tee box.
“Maybe one of us should have made a hole-in-one instead of skip a group,” he said.
There was plenty of action elsewhere. Luke Donald and Oosthuizen holed bunker shots for eagle on the 16th. Rickie Fowler dunked one from the 11th fairway for eagle. There were 10 eagles in the third round, only three of them on a par 5.
Most satisfying to Holmes was having a five-shot lead going into the final round. He had the lead, and figured pars would be enough to keep it.
“You want to make some birdies, but I definitely wasn’t planning on making four,” Holmes said.
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