If the only two leaderboards someone saw from The Honda Classic were after the first round and the final round, they might assume that 40-year-old Australian Matt Jones cruised to an easy wire-to-wire victory. After opening with a stunning 9-under-par 61 on the tough par-70 Champion course at PGA National, Jones ended up picking up his second PGA TOUR win by five shots at 12-under-par 268.
What happened in between isn’t apparent from those scores, though, especially that he was six shots behind Aaron Wise early in the third round. Wise had erased Jones’ three-shot first-round lead with a second consecutive 64 in round two, taking his own three-stroke advantage into the third round at 12-under-par.
The key to Jones’ win was the way he handled the famed Bear Trap, a three-hole stretch on the back nine known for its water hazards and score-killing disasters.
Not So Fast
After a pair of early birdies on Saturday, Wise stood on the sixth tee at 14-under-par and a six-shot advantage. A double-bogey left him at 12-under by the time he got to the seventh hole.
After five bogeys and no birdies the rest of the way, he once again found himself three shots behind Jones, who shot a third-round 69. Wise followed up a third-round 75 with a final-round 73 to finish tied for 13th with a 4-under-par total of 276.
Jones’ lead was cut to one shot during the final round, but birdies on holes 12 and 13 pushed his cushion to four shots, and he cruised from there to collect the first-place prize of $1,260,000 along with 500 FedEx Cup points. It was his first win since the 2014 Houston Open.
There wasn’t anything in his recent play that would have indicated that he was about to win again, as he was +8500 in the futures odds.
Handling The Bear Trap
The key to Jones’ win was the way he handled the famed Bear Trap, a three-hole stretch on the back nine known for its water hazards and score-killing disasters. Jones played the 15th, 16th and 17th holes at PGA National in 2-under-par for the week, with three birdies and a lone bogey.
Brandon Hagy finished in second by himself at 7-under-par, followed by six players a shot behind him at 6-under. Hagy recovered from a third-round 76 to shoot 66 and collect $763,000 in Tour earnings and 300 FedEx Cup points.
The tournament, already plagued by a field devoid of any players in the top 10 in the world, was dealt another blow when favorite Daniel Berger at +1100 withdrew with a rib injury. That left Sungjae Im as the futures odds leader at +1300. The 22-year-old South Korean finished in a tie for eighth after a 5-under-par 275.
Lee Westwood, runner-up the last two weeks at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and THE PLAYERS Championship, entered the Honda Classic as one of the favorites at odds of +2200. After a respectable even-par 70 in round one, the 47-year-old Englishman finally hit the wall, missing the cut after a second-round 78, which included three double bogeys.