Fine-tuning his swing over FaceTime with coach Gary Barter was the injection of confidence Matt Jones needed to street the field for his second career PGA Tour title at The Honda Classic in Florida.
Not even the feared “Bear Trap” towards the end of the round could bring the two-time Australian Open champion unstuck, Jones allowing himself a fist pump when his tee shot at the par-3 17th safely found the green with a five-shot advantage.
Occupying a spot near the top of the leaderboard since rattling off a course-record nine-under 61 in the opening round, Jones shot 68 on Sunday as his nearest rivals faltered, two closing pars maintaining his five-shot lead until the end.
With his first win in the US since chipping in to defeat Matt Kuchar in a playoff at the 2014 Shell Houston Open, Jones climbed back inside the top-50 in the world and booked his place at Augusta National in three weeks’ time courtesy of a win set up by a long-distance session with his coach.
“I told my coach and I told my friends, something’s coming, it’s getting closer,” said Jones, who missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and was tied for 55th at The Players Championship last week.
“I worked on the range through FaceTime with my coach back in Australia and we just started to get a feel for things. Started to get the body and the club working together and it worked all week.
“I told a friend earlier that I like my chances this week.
“Seven years between wins, it’s been a battle. I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs, but to win a second time on this golf course in these conditions that we faced all week is, it’s phenomenal and hopefully it’s something I can build on for the rest of the year.”
After turning 40 during the Tour’s COVID-19 break, Jones spoke of the frank conversations he had shared with his family about how much longer he would continue playing at the highest level.
After a chat with Adam Scott and a second PGA Tour title to his name, Jones now believes his most productive years on Tour are still ahead of him.
“I’ve spoken to Adam Scott about this. We’ve got five really good hard years ahead of us, where we think we can do something special and I think this sets me on a path where I could." – Matt Jones
“I’ve spoken to Adam Scott about this. We’ve got five really good hard years ahead of us, where we think we can do something special and I think this sets me on a path where I could,” said Jones, the Australian Open champion of 2015 and 2019.
“I’ve probably under-achieved, in my opinion, for what I could have done. But I’ve got some time left.
“I feel like my game’s getting better as I get older. I’m hitting it better, I’m hitting it longer, so there’s nothing to say that that won’t happen.”
Spending Saturday night thinking about a return to Augusta, a birdie putt from six metres at the opening hole settled the nerves and Jones followed it up with another at the par-5 3rd, two-putting from 23 metres to keep the chasing pack at bay.
A one-shot buffer suddenly became four when Jones’s nearest challenger Aaron Wise four-putted the 10th hole from eight metres and his own slight stumble at 11 was recovered quickly with a birdie at the next hole.
He poured another in at 13 to extend his lead to five strokes and a wonderful approach to 16 and birdie putt from four metres ensured he would extend the record of Australians winning on the PGA Tour to 33 years in succession.
There was another strong Aussie performance on the Korn Ferry Tour where New South Welshman Harrison Endycott turned a spot on the alternates’ list into a top-five finish at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open.
Endycott’s place in the field was only confirmed on Tuesday following the withdrawal of Ryan Brehm and he took full advantage.
“I was like the 14th alternate last (tournament), so it’s crazy how it can change,” said Endycott after earning a share of the lead with an opening round of four-under 67.
“I’m very grateful that I’m actually playing this week and trying to make the most of it.
“It’s a little bit of a question mark going in each week. Any week out here, a big week is crucial and it can change your life.
“It’s hard because you don’t know what people are thinking or feeling. You have to be optimistic. You can’t think you’re not in and that’s why I travelled here; I have to prepare like I am in.”
Like Endycott, Scott Hend found himself near the top of the leaderboard at the European Tour’s Magical Kenya Open at Karen Country Club in Nairobi.
A second round of 64 followed by a third round of three-under 68 put the Queenslander just two off the lead entering the final round, but two bogeys on the front nine and a double-bogey seven on the par-5 12th pushed Hend back into a tie for 16th.
The Honda Classic
PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
1 Matt Jones 61-70-69-68—268 US$1.26m
T13 Adam Scott 69-67-72-68—276 $125,417
T33 Cameron Davis 66-71-70-73—280 $39,900
T46 Lucas Herbert 70-69-70-73—282 $19,070
MC Cameron Percy 69-74—143
MC Rhein Gibson 74-70—144
Magical Kenya Open
Karen Country Club, Nairobi, Kenya
Won by Justin Harding at 21 under
T16 Scott Hend 67-64-68-73—272 €11,497
MC Maverick Antcliff 74-70—144
Korn Ferry Tour
Chitimacha Louisiana Open
Le Triomphe G&CC, Broussard, Louisiana
Won by Roberto Diaz at 18 under
5 Harrison Endycott 67-70-68-65—270 US$22,800
T23 Aaron Baddeley 71-72-67-66—276 $5,675
T63 Curtis Luck 72-72-70-70—284 $2,412
T66 Jamie Arnold 73-69-75-68—285 $2,376
MC Brett Drewitt 76-71—147
MC Robert Allenby 73-76—149
MC Mark Hensby 77-72—149
MC Ryan Ruffels 73-79—152
Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic
Won by Ruixin Liu in playoff with Rose Zhang (-17)
T35 Robyn Choi 68-70-72-75—285