22 March 2021: When Matt Jones won his first PGA TOUR title seven years ago, he needed a 45-foot birdie putt just to get into a playoff and then a 40-yard chip-in to take the victory.
This win was far less dramatic, yet just as meaningful.
Jones won The Honda Classic by five shots Sunday, a final round of 2-under 68 good enough to finish the week at 12-under 268 at PGA National. The margin matched the largest in tournament history, tying the mark set by Jack Nicklaus in 1977 and matched by Camilo Villegas in 2010.
“It’s been seven years. It’s been a tough seven years,” Jones said. “I’ve had ups and I’ve had downs, as all golfers have, but it gets me into a lot of big tournaments now.”
The win moves him to 11th in the FedExCup and closer to making his first TOUR Championship. It also will get him into the Masters Tournament in April and THE PLAYERS Championship and Sentry Tournament of Champions in 2022.
The 40-year-old Australian earned $1.26 million and, this time, he’ll have more than a day to prepare for the trip to Augusta National. His win at the Houston Open in 2014 — and his Masters invite — came just one day before he had to go to Augusta, so it was a mad scramble to get family and friends together to share in the experience.
“It’s going to be nice,” Jones said. “I can go prep for the Masters this time. Last time it was an absolute blur. I can’t remember a thing about it, so I’m going to do some prep this time before.”
C.T. Pan and Sungjae Im shine at PGA National
Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan produced his best finish of the season with a tie for third place at The Honda Classic on Sunday, some six shots behind runaway winner Matt Jones of Australia.
The 29-year-old Pan signed off with an even par 70 at PGA National as he traded three birdies against three bogeys for a tournament total of 6-under 274. He earned 125 FedExCup points to move up to 80th position as he chases for a place in the elite 125-man field in the Playoffs in August.
Defending champion Sungjae Im of Korea also closed with a 70 to end the week in a share of eighth place on 275, with his card comprising of three birdies against as many bogeys.
Starting the final round four back of Jones, who won by five over Brandon Hagy, Pan showed plenty of grit with bounce back birdies after dropping shots on the second, 14th and 17th holes. He made birdies from 11 feet, 13 feet and nine feet on the third, 15th and 18th holes respectively to earn his second top-10 of the 2020-21 PGA TOUR Season following a T7 at the Masters Tournament in November.
“It’s been an up-and-down performance (for 2020) or even in the beginning of this year. I feel that I’m improving every day, every week. It’s just a matter of time that I put everything together to get it going and shoot four good rounds out there, and definitely this week I think I did that and I am very proud of it,” said Pan, who has missed five cuts from seven starts prior to this week.
Under windy conditions, he excelled on the putting greens and was on point with his iron play, ranking in the top-10 in Strokes Gained: Putting (9th) and Greens in Regulation (T6). His first top-10 in nearly four months will now put him in a good frame of mind as he prepares to return to Augusta National next month and the lucrative FedExCup Playoffs which he missed out for the first time last season.
Pan survived the notorious PGA National’s “Bear Trap” comprising of holes 15, 16 and 17, which has been ranked as amongst the toughest stretch of holes on TOUR. He was one-over on those holes throughout the week. “Just feel like I’m ready. It’s a tough course (here), especially under these conditions. I mean, blowing 30-mile wind out there and the final stretch, if you shoot even par throughout the whole week, that would be a really good score. And I’m pretty sure I did that (Pan was one over) and that’s something I’m going to take going forward for sure,” he said.
He hopes the good times will continue to roll from now onwards following his lean spell. He said last season’s challenges with COVID-19 made it difficult for him to find his usual rhythm and form. “COVID definitely screwed up our schedules. I always play better in the second half of the season and obviously we didn’t have the first half to warm-up (last year), so I was kind of late on that, and just didn’t play good, and last year my health was clearly subpar. It wasn’t COVID-related, but just in general, everything was kind of subpar and I’m just happy to get it back and my game feels great.”
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat shot a final round 74 to finish T67.
Matt Jones owned the field this year
Jones started the week with a course-record-tying round of 9-under 61. He was three shots behind Aaron Wise after 36 holes after a second-round 70, and his round of 69 on Saturday was good enough to put him up by three entering Sunday.
Brandon Hagy (66) finished 7 under and alone in second on his 30th birthday, his chance at winning doomed by a third-round 76. Chase Seiffert (64), Brendan Steele (65), C.T. Pan (70), Denny McCarthy (67) and Russell Henley (68) tied for third at 6 under.
“There’s a lot of tough holes out there and there’s big stakes for sure, but I’ve been working on some good stuff and it’s nice to see some of that pan out,” Hagy said.
The only stretch where Jones’ grip on the lead seemed in peril was midway through the round; Wise, who once led by six shots during the third round, had four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the front and got within one of the lead.
Wise’s chances ended at the par-4 10th. He hit his second into a bunker, then four-putted from 25 feet for triple-bogey. Jones’ lead went to four, and he avoided trouble the rest of the way, while Wise finished with a 73 and tied for 13th at 4 under.
J.B. Holmes was in the final group with Jones, three shots back to start the day, and his chances were gone very quickly.
Holmes knocked his shot from a greenside bunker off the green and made bogey on the opening hole, then sent his tee shot way right on the par-4 second and needed about 10 minutes to find the ball — it was nestled among palm fronds — and decide how to proceed.
He went on to make double bogey there, and when Jones birdied the par-5 third Holmes’ deficit had gone from three to eight shots in about 45 minutes.
At that point, only a few had a realistic chance at catching Jones. Before long, the outcome was obvious.
“You can’t get a tougher golf course to win on than this one, in these conditions,” Jones said. “To be able to do that on this golf course is amazing and something I can build on for the future, hopefully.”
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