Matt Jones Completes Dominant Victory at Honda Classic
IN THE end, the Honda Classic was a tournament too far for Lee Westwood. Having finished runner-up in successive weeks on the PGA Tour, the 47-year-old admitted that he simply ran out of steam as he missed the cut. He finished one shot behind Justin Thomas at The Players Championship and lost by the same margin to Bryson DeChambeau a week earlier.
But the Englishman finished eight over par after two rounds on the Champions Course at PGA National. Westwood, who won the European Tour's Race to Dubai last year, carded a level-par 70 on Thursday but was eight over for his second round. The former world number one made three double bogeys and three bogeys, with his sole birdie coming on the par-four eighth.
"This was probably a tournament too far for me, after the run I've had the last two weeks," he said. "But I felt like I should play here. In an ideal world this would have been a week off after finishing second the last two weeks. What can you do? It just felt like one I had to play, I kind of glazed over out there as I was so tired."
As Westwood enjoyed the weekend off, Australia’s Matt Jones closed with a final round to win by five shots after a final round of 68. For Jones it was only his second victory on the PGA Tour, seven years after his first.
With the exception of a brief spell on Friday, 40-year-old Jones held the lead for most of the week after opening with a 61. He trailed by three on Friday after his 70, but then led the way again after round three. And this morning he finds himself in 11th place in the FedExCup standings, with an invitation to next month’s Masters now secured.
Brandon Hagy battled back after a 76 in the third round to shoot 66 and claim second place at seven under par 273 on his 30th birthday, but he never looked like catching Jones.
Afterwards, the winner said: “I mean, golf … it’s a very tough sport we play out here. It’s very cutthroat. We’re working to keep our jobs every year. And you have to perform well to be able to do that. It’s been seven years since I won, and there have been some lean years in there.”
When Jones won his first title in Houston seven years ago, he holed a long pitch to prevail in a playoff over Matt Kuchar after draining a 45-foot putt on the final green just to draw level with Kuchar. This time he hit 17 of 18 greens and kept giving himself birdie chances. He made five birdies, bringing his total for the week to 20.
Jones made his only real mistake when he missed a short putt for par at the 11th hole, but he bounced straight back with birdies at the 12th and 13th holes, which took him five ahead of Hagy. He then coasted through PGA National’s fearsome Bear Trap (holes 15-17) with two pars and a birdie. When he hit the par-three 17th he pumped his right fist.
“I had a goal this week to walk a little slower, and just relax,” Jones said. “I normally play golf quickly. So I tried to stay calm and stay relaxed out there. You have to be when you play this golf course. I set that as a goal this week, and it worked out.”
Jones was going to take three weeks off after Honda, but now he will be getting ready for his second Masters. The only other one he played was after he won in Houston in 2014.
Justin Harding carded a nerveless bogey-free 66 to claim his first win in two years at the Magical Kenya Open. The South African won the Qatar Masters in March 2019 as part of a stunning run of form that saw him claim five wins in 10 months and earn himself a place at The Masters as he broke into the top 50 in the world.
It was a tie for second at this event the week after his victory in the desert that booked his place at Augusta National, and Harding once again looked right at home in Nairobi as he finished the week at 21 under, two shots clear of American Kurt Kitayama and four ahead of Scot Connor Syme.
“I went through such a good run in 2019 when it felt like I never actually played badly,” he said. “Getting over the line in Qatar was, it sounds a bit strange now, but it was almost like something that was going to happen.
“I’ve been through a dip in form in terms of mixed results and it was nice to get over the line this time around. Winning isn’t everything but I think being in the winner’s circle again means a little more to me than I actually thought it did.”
Harding birdied the sixth and seventh and, when he drove the par-four ninth to 15 feet and rolled in the eagle putt, he led by four.
Kitayama put some pressure on with a chip-in eagle on the 12th and a birdie on the 17th but Harding followed him in from 10 feet on the penultimate hole and parred the last for victory. Syme was six shots off the lead at the start of the day but briefly held second on his own as he birdied the third, fifth, sixth, seventh, ninth, 11th and 12th.
A bogey on the 14th stalled his momentum but he played a towering iron into the 15th for a tap-in birdie before going bogey-birdie over the next two holes in a 64.
“I’ve been working really, really hard over the last four weeks with my dad Stuart at home on my putting,” he said. “A 64 on a Sunday is probably one of my lowest finishes to a tournament. It bodes well for next week.”
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