photo: Matt Jones in action early in his 3rd round. – Justin Falconer Golf Australia
Australia’s Matt Jones has extended his one shot 36-hole lead to three through 54 holes of the Australian Open Championship in Sydney and his already impressive record at this venue, and in this event, appears as if it may well be extended in tomorrow’s final round.
Jones won his national title around the Australian Golf Club in 2015 and finished runner-up two years later, so, that he enjoys such a fine history at the golf course, suggests he will again be the man to beat.
Jones leads over American Cameron Tringale, with another shot back to Japanese amateur star Takumi Kanaya, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and the man who might yet be Jones’ biggest threat on day four, Paul Casey.
Unlike the opening two days of the event where benign conditions prevailed, the morning, easterly breeze turned into a wind around mid-morning and by the time the leaders hit off at 11.55 the Australian Golf Club layout began to bare its teeth for the first time this week.
The often irrelevant and overused term of ‘moving day’ became even more so as nobody appeared capable of breaking clear of the field and by the time the leaders made the turn, 11 players were within two shots of the lead headed by South African Louis Oosthuizen, former champion, the US based Sydneysider, Matt Jones and New Zealand rookie Denzel Ieremia.
They led by one over American, Cameron Tringale, recently turned professional Blake Windred and England’s Paul Casey who had just three putted the 9th to drop out of the lead he had on his own to that point.
Also at 8 under and just one from the lead, was another US based Sydneysider Jamie Arnold who emerged from the cutline of 1 under par to be just one from the lead with his stunning early morning round of 64, a round that would become four shots better than any other.
Three holes later, however, and it would be Jones who established a break on the field with three birdies in his opening four holes of the closing nine and he led by three over Tringale with another shot back to Casey, Ieremia, Kanaya, Oosthuizen and Arnold who four hours earlier had finished his round.
When Jones walked from the 16th green he had added yet another birdie to open-up a four-shot lead and although he found trouble at the 17th and took bogey he would find the green with his second at the par 5 18th.
When he had safely two putted for birdie he had added a round of 68 and at 13 under he had established a cushion heading into tomorrow.
The golf course was clearly more demanding today and Jones summed up the reason why in his post round press conference.
“It’s just not a normal wind, I don’t find out here from years of playing, the easterly’s not a normal wind,” he said. “I find it normally a north or a south wind. So, you’ve got some side winds out there. It was just tricky because it kept going from east, then it went to northeast, then it went to southeast and it’s just tough to trust some of those numbers.
“It got Paul on number 9 where he hit a perfect shot and it came up in a bunker. It was tougher and the pin locations were tougher. It was tougher to get access out there.”
“I started off a little shaky and I knew once you get through certain holes, you’ve got more holes later on in the round that you can make some birdies and I was lucky enough to get through them and got to the back nine and I made, I think, five birdies on the back nine to have a good round.
“I was very calm out there today. My caddy said on the first tee if you’re not nervous – I can’t remember what he said – then I must be wrong, because I wasn’t very nervous, I was very comfortable and excited to go out and play. I played with Paul for many years in college and it was fun to go out there and play with him.”
Jones’ closest challenger, Cameron Tringale, has yet to win on either the PGA or Korn Ferry Tour so tomorrow holds hopes for him to finally breakthrough with a win of significance. He has been three times runner-up however and a win tomorrow would be just reward for his efforts to date and for making the decision to come to Australia. A win this week may well be the making of the 32 year old.
Casey summed up how many are perhaps feeling about their chances tomorrow.
“Matt played fantastic golf I thought, really good stuff and if he plays like that tomorrow then I think he’ll probably be a bit too tough, because I’m too far back probably, but we’ll see. I played a wonderful round of golf on Friday; I need to try and replicate that tomorrow
“It was a flat day, I just never really got going, not much to really say, I didn’t do a hell of a lot wrong but when I had opportunities, I didn’t capitalise and there was obviously a couple of errors in there. But how do you get around this course without making errors?
Oosthuizen birdied his final hole to remind all that the classy former Open Champion is still a major chance tomorrow. So how did he feel about the four shot margin between he and the leader.
“I think around here it’s not too much. You can really get it going around here if you start making a few putts, the greens are so good. I think it all depends on your start. If you have a good start and he just goes 1-over maybe through five holes, then different story. I think it’s all on if he’s going to start really well and pull away from everyone, then it gets difficult, but I need to start well tomorrow.”
Matt Jones, however, has had a very commercially successful career in professional golf with more than US$12 million in earnings on the PGA Tour alone but at the age of 39 it is titles that are perhaps equally important.
With only two of significance to his name (the Houston Open and the 2015 Australian Open), a win tomorrow will help balance the ledger.