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Holmes has some Tiger in his tank

Common sense says to back off. Logic screams that if your first PGA Tour win seems like the surest bet since time of sunrise, the last thing you do is pull out driver on 18 and try to clear the Baltic Sea. So what did J.B. Holmes do Sunday? He scorched it 325 yards on the fly. Probably won closest to the line in the process. And he signaled there might finally be a young player with enough game and gumption to take a run at the Big Five, maybe even the Gargantuan One.

Holmes might be the hottest golfer on earth, excepting you know who. He toyed with the field at Q-School in December, never shooting worse than 69 over six days. He placed 10th in his tour debut last month at the Sony Open. Sunday's seven-shot victory in the Phoenix Open made him a tour millionaire in his fourth career start. No one's pocketed so much that quickly, not even you know who.

Tiger Woods has heard it all before. Here he comes, the next great golfer, the challenger to the throne. Wasn't Sergio Garcia going to fill that role? Charles Howell III? Justin Rose? Isn't the golf world littered with carcasses of young bucks seemingly destined to overthrow the emperor, or at least pull up a chair at his side?

All true. But Holmes seems like a different breed, untouched by common pressures. He's 23. He's fresh out of the University of Kentucky, which is about to college golf what USC is to hockey. You'd expect him to walk from green to tee in a tour event like a guy looking for a contact lens. But there he was, late in the tournament, victory pending, slapping skin with the gallery. Scott Hoch he isn't.

"When you've got a six-shot lead, you can usually maneuver it in," Holmes said, as if he's been down this road before.

Holmes has a little John Daly swirling within. You think I hit that last one a ton? Watch this. So he acquiesced to the pleasure of the spectators on 18, dismissing 290 yards of water and feeding the building frenzy by hammering driver straighter than Sunday school.

"That's fun," Holmes said at his victory news conference. "A lot of people like to see people hit it a long ways. Bubba Watson hits it long, John Daly, Tiger Woods. Everybody likes to see somebody hit it a long ways because a lot of the fans, they can't do that. Most of them, if they play, they've made a 30-footer or something like that. It's something they've done. But they can't hit it 340, 350, whatever."

Who can? Not anybody Holmes has played with.

"Not consistently," he said. "I've played with somebody if I don't hit a great drive or something like that they'll hit one past me. But I've never played with anybody who consistently hits it past me."

The guy's a story and a half. He made the high school golf team in Campbellsville, Ky., . . . in the third grade. His teacher is himself. He's played sparingly on the major summer amateur circuit, tying for 26th at the 2003 Porter Cup (second round: 63) but never returning. He turned pro after his appearance on last year's U.S. Walker Cup team.

"He's always been known as a guy who could absolutely bomb it," said Porter Cup director Steve Denn, who recruits players. "I don't know where he gets his power from. He's not the biggest guy in the world. But since I've known him, when he was a freshman at Kentucky, he's been known as a guy who could launch it."

But no one expected this, four tournaments down, a million in the bank. "Up until this week," Denn said, "I would have considered him a top-10 prospect but probably a notch below Bill Haas."

Is Holmes a one-week wonder? We'll have to wait and see. But he's not buying it. "I want to win another one," Holmes said. "You have a chance to do something great every week, and that's what's so great about the tour. I can go out next week and miss the cut and play terrible, but I can go the next week and win."

Kind of sounds like you know who.


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