BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - 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.
“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.