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Matt Jones wows everybody at Honda Classic except himself

Matt Jones at 2021 Honda Classic
For 1 day, at least, Australian Matt Jones gets the better of PGA National’s Champion Course, shooting a course-record-tying 9-under 61 on Thursday for a 3-stroke lead at the Honda Classic.

Australian fires bogey-free 9-under 61 to tie course record at PGA National’s windswept Champion Course, opening a 3-stroke lead

As impressive as Matt Jones’ opening round of the Honda Classic seemed to be, one man came away not all that wowed by the results.

Matt Jones.

The Australian shot a bogey-free 9-under 61 on Thursday at the final stop on the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing, matching the course record at PGA National’s Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens (scores).

“I play golf for a living,” Jones said matter-of-factly. “I mean, I should be able to shoot a good score occasionally. That doesn't happen as much as I want, but, yes, I'm very happy with it.”

If Jones wasn’t so much overjoyed with the result, Lee Westwood certainly came away impressed, calling it “an incredible round of golf.”

“It could be the round of the year, 61 around here, when it’s flat calm, impressive,” said Westwood, who shot 70 after having finished runner-up in the past two weeks. “But when there’s a 15-, 20-mile-an-hour wind blowing, greens are fast, a lot of crosswinds, that’s an incredible round of golf.”

It was so good that Jones finds himself three strokes clear of the field entering today’s second round.

“I was very calm and I was relaxed out there, which normally I'm a bit more amped up and hyped up,” Jones said, “and I had a different goal this week, to be a little more calm, walk slower, and that's what I tried to do today.”

Jones got hot early, making four consecutive birdies, on Nos. 2-5, with only one of the putts longer than 5 feet. He added birdies at Nos. 11 and 13, both par 4s, before closing with three consecutive birdies. He toured the vaunted "Bear Trap" of Nos. 15-17 in 2 under.

“I actually didn't know I made four in a row until I saw it on the scoreboard on 18,” Jones said. “I didn't even think about it. You can't think about that on this golf course, because every hole can bite you out here very quickly.”

Jones tied a course record that had been set by Brian Harman in the second round in the 2012 Honda Classic.

American Russell Henley, the 2014 Honda champion, shot 64 to share second place with countryman Aaron Wise, who started with three consecutive birdies. Steve Stricker, the 54-year-old U.S. Ryder Cup captain who was making his first start at the Honda since 2007, opened with a 66 to share fourth place.

Wise also was impressed with Jones’ play, calling it “an amazing round, but I felt like I played one, too.”

True, that. Only 42 of the 144 players broke par on a day when the thermometer hit 86 and the wind gauge steadily registered 15-20 mph, with gusts of 30 mph.

Before Thursday, Jones had produced merely so-so results on the Florida Swing. Two weeks ago, he missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational before tying for 55th last week at the Players Championship. Before Florida, Jones had made 10 consecutive cuts dating to last fall, including two top-10s: a T-4 at Bermuda and a T-8 at the Genesis Invitational.

Jones, who is No. 83 in the world ranking, owns only one victory in 329 starts on the PGA Tour, at the 2014 Houston Open. His most recent worldwide victory came 15 months ago in his homeland, at the 2019 Emirates Australian Open.

Jones, 40, grew up in Sydney and played college golf at Arizona State before turning professional in 2001. As a PGA Tour rookie, he tied for fourth at the 2008 Honda Classic, which remains his best finish in seven previous starts at the southeast Florida event.

He’s in position to improve upon that record this week. That might even be enough to impress Matt Jones.

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