Aussie Jones matches course record 61 to grab PGA lead

MIAMI (AFP) – Australia’s Matt Jones fired a bogey-free nine-under par 61 on Thursday to match the course record at PGA National and grab the lead after the first round of the PGA Honda Classic.

The 40-year-old from Sydney tied the mark set by American Brian Harman in the second round of the 2012 event thanks to birdies on the last three holes on a windy day at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

“It was a very good day,” Jones said. “I struck the ball well actually all day, and it was probably one of the better ball-striking days with my irons that I’ve had for a long, long time.”

Jones, a two-time Australian Open champion who captured his only United States (US) PGA Tour title at the 2014 Houston Open, fired the lowest round in his 14-year US tour career, breaking his prior best of 62 in the 2013 final round at Greensboro.

“I hit it really nicely,” Jones said. “You have to be able to control the ball. It was windy out there, and I turned with a good score, and then you know what you’ve got ahead of you and I was just lucky to make a few more birdies.

“I hit a lot of good shots, and I made the putts when I hit it close.”

Matt Jones of Australia hits from the 18th tee. PHOTO: AP

Americans Aaron Wise and Russell Henley shared second on 64, three strokes back, with Aussie Cameron Davis and Americans Steve Stricker, Kevin Chappell, Joseph Bramlett and Scott Harrington on 66.

World number 83 Jones delivered the best opening round since the event moved to PGA National in 2007, two shots lower than Rory McIlroy’s old mark from 2014.

England’s Lee Westwood, coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes, opened on 70 thanks to back-to-back birdies to end his round. He was impressed at how well Jones played.

“That’s an incredible round of golf. Could be the round of the year,” Westwood said.

“(A) 61 around here when it’s flat calm is the best of it, but when there’s a 15-20 mph wind blowing, greens are fast, a lot of cross winds, that’s an incredible round of golf.”

Jones, who was 55th last week at the Players Championship, has two top-10 efforts this season, a share of fourth in November at Bermuda and a share of eighth last month at Riviera.

Jones reeled off four birdies in a row starting with a 14-foot putt at the par-four second. He blasted out of a greenside bunker to two feet and tapped in at the par-five third, then dropped approach shots inside five feet and sank birdie putts at the par-four fourth and par-three fifth.

“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.

“I don’t know if you ever know it’s special. I was just managing the golf course and hitting good shots.”

Jones rolled in birdie putts from just under 17 feet at 11 and just over six feet at 13, then made a clutch par putt from nine feet at the par-four 14th.

He began his closing birdie binge by dropping his approach inches from the cup at the par-four 16th and tapping in, then sank a 23-foot birdie putt from off the green at the par-three 17th.