Our national championship returns to The Australian Golf Club in 2021 and 2023 and it wouldn’t surprise if Matt Jones captured either or both future editions.
The 39-year-old Sydneysider today saw his name engraved on the Stonehaven Cup for a second time in five playings, both titles coming at the venue that has hosted more Australian Opens than any other. Jones owns a long and fruitful relationship with the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout. He’s been a club member since his mid-teens and his past three Australian Opens here have yielded an exceptional 1-T2-1 sequence. No one wants to see the championship return to The Australian more.
Jones led by a stroke after 36 holes, by three after 54 holes and claimed the title by a single shot this afternoon in what was an economic, no-frills performance for 17 holes and heart-stopping for one. His closing 69 relegated Louis Oosthuizen to runner-up status, although the South African’s performance is a welcome sign ahead of the Presidents Cup later this week.
For most of the day Jones maintained a small yet handy margin over the rest of the field. Birdies at the 13th and 14th holes appeared to be decisive, before a dropped shot by Jones at the 16th gave Oosthuizen hope. Then almost simultaneously, the 2010 Open champion rifled a magical second shot into the par-5 last to set up a makeable eagle chance just as Jones was holing a long putt for birdie at 17.
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When Oosthuizen’s 15-foot eagle putt dropped on the final green, it trimmed Jones’ lead to a single stroke and the complexion of the championship changed in a heartbeat.
Jones drove left at 18, his ball finishing in the snaking bunker separating the 10th and 18th fairways. With options to play down either corridor, Jones elected for the riskier play of threading his fairway bunker shot between pine trees towards the 18th fairway but his shot struck one of the impeding pines. His third shot played from the fluky pinestraw sailed well left of the green, before a deft pitch shot left him a similar-length short putt to the one he curled in to win by a stroke four years ago.
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When his winning putt dropped in the same fashion, Jones assured the Australian Open would be sans playoff once again.
“I was under an assumption Louis was on a different score so I relaxed a bit, but ultimately my short game got me over the line,” said Jones, who played the last hole thinking he had a larger cushion after being wrongly informed that Oosthuizen had closed with a par.
The South African, meanwhile, came up just shy in his bid to join the substantial list of Stonehaven Cup holders from the Rainbow Nation.
“On the back nine I just wanted to try to get some numbers up there so that he’s a little bit under pressure,” Oosthuizen said. “But he did really well and the whole day he was three shots ahead. I had to do something and I went for it on the last and it paid off and made a nice eagle.”
Jones joins the likes of Greg Chalmers, Peter Lonard, Peter Senior, Aaron Baddeley, Jordan Spieth, Robert Allenby and others from recent decades as a two-time Australian Open winner but is the only one of those players to do so on the same golf course.
While he clearly feels comfortable, the notion that Jones owns a home-course advantage is something of a misnomer. Before the tournament began, he conceded that while he has been a member of The Australian since his teens, the vast majority of his rounds there were played before Nicklaus’ latest redesign in 2013. Yet it feels like Jones knows the place better than anyone else.
“It’s just an overall comfort factor, when you’ve been at a place for 15 years,” Jones told Australian Golf Digest on Tuesday. “I haven’t really been here since I was 18 – I’ve been in America since ’99. I’ve played here six times a year for the past 15 years. It’s not like I come back here and play and know the golf course, but it’s probably more comfortable off the tees and the lines to take and where to miss shots.
“I don’t know it as well on these greens and these new green complexes after Jack came in and re-did it. The old ones would have been much more comfortable to me, but I’m getting used to them.”
Once again there was keen interest in the two best innovations the championship has ever seen.
In the tournament-within-a-tournament, Jones claimed one of the three available places in next year’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s Golf Club. Joining him in England’s south next July courtesy of their joint third-place finishes this week will be burly Queenslander Aaron Pike and animated Japanese amateur Takumi Kanaya.
And there was a playoff in the second staging of the Australian All Abilities Championship, with Sweden’s Johan Kammerstad [above] emerging victorious for the second year in a row after a sudden-death playoff against Canadian Kurtis Barkley. The playoff almost lasted longer but ended when Barkley unluckily lipped out a putt to sustain the tie:
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