J.B. Holmes said one thing. His score said another.
He never liked the old Blue Monster at Doral because he felt it was too easy to be hosting a World Golf Championship. Those events were supposed to be difficult and yet the two previous times he played the Cadillac Championship, the winning score was 17- and 18-under par.
"It's a very difficult golf course," Holmes said.
He was serious. And he had just posted a 10-under 62 that matched the tournament record. He had a four-shot lead, the largest on the PGA Tour in just over two years. And he had a simple explanation.
"I was able to hit the shots where I envisioned and hit good shots, and today the putter was on," Holmes said. "Put that combination together, you do everything pretty good, you're going to shoot a good score."
He pictured a 362-yard drive on the 10th hole, an iron into the green on the 616-yard par 5 and a two-putt for birdie. OK, the 35-foot birdie putt on the next hole was a surprise. And then after a 376-yard drive, again with the wind at his back, on the 603-yard 12th hole, Holmes pictured a 6-iron that might be enough to get over the bunker and possibly stay on the green. It stopped just under a foot away for a tap-in eagle.
It was like that all day.
Holmes finished with an 8-foot par putt on No. 9, which he said was "about 5 feet" longer than any other par putt he faced all day. The 62 gave him a four-shot lead over Ryan Moore, who made double bogey on his last hole for a 66.
"Ten under? You're joking," Shane Lowry said after a hard-fought 71.
It was no joke to Rory McIlroy, who shot 40 on his opening nine and rallied to salvage a 73.
Phil Mickelson shot 74 and failed to make a birdie for the first time in 186 rounds on the PGA Tour, dating to the final day at Olympic Club in the 2012 U.S. Open.
Holmes last played at Doral in 2010, missing time with injuries, not the least of which was surgery to remove a piece of his skull in 2011. Gil Hanse renovated the Blue Monster to make it more sensational with so much water hugging the fairways and greens.
The average score was 73.4, meaning that Holmes was more than 11 shots better than the field, the best standard of a great round. His 62 matched the tournament record set by Bubba Watson at Doral in 2012, and Sergio Garcia and Retief Goosen at Mount Juliet in Ireland in 2002.
McIlroy's standard is slightly off at the moment.
Already a winner in Dubai and a runner-up in Abu Dhabi, he missed the cut last week at the Honda Classic after a month break and said he felt tentative. A week later, not much changed. Poor tee shots kept him from reaching the par 5s on the back nine in two. He twice failed to save par from the bunkers. And then from the middle of the fairway on the 18th hole — the tee shot is supposed to be the hard part — he was caught between clubs and tugged a 7-iron short, down the bank and into the water for a double bogey.
On his next tee shot, McIlroy was 5 yards away from going into the water — on the adjacent Red Course.
"It is very good on the range and it is very good in normal play when I'm not playing a tournament," McIlroy said. "Then I've got a card in my hand the last couple weeks and it just hasn't quite been there. It's nice you can get round rounds this week and sort of try to play your way into some sort of rhythm. I don't feel like it's that far away. That's the frustrating thing."
Dustin Johnson ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine and was at 68, along with Alexander Levy of France and Rickie Fowler, who thought his round was solid. "To shoot 68 in some tough conditions on a tough golf course and be six back, wouldn't really expect that," Fowler said.
Henrik Stenson, making his American debut, had six birdies and joined Phoenix Open winner Brooks Koepka at 69. The group at 70 included Adam Scott, who used a conventional putter for the first time in just over four years.