The welcome return of some wind and navigating two of the most perilous stretches in world golf will be key in Matt Jones conducting a successful defence of his Honda Classic title in Florida this week.
A career-low round of 61 on day one equalled the PGA National course record 12 months ago and set up the second PGA Tour win of Jones’s career, a nice complement to his two Australian Open titles.
Given the difficulty posed by the combination of course and conditions – PGA National was the fifth-toughest course on tour last year with an average score of 71.102 – Jones’ display in round one turned heads and confirmed his affinity for the tournament.
It served as the site of his first top-10 on the PGA TOUR in 2008 and Jones believes it is the mastery of wind learnt learning the game on some of Sydney’s finest layouts that makes him such a good fit.
“I’m used to the wind. I’ve normally performed well in the wind in the past and over in Australia
growing up in the wind you just try to lower your ball flight a little bit,” said Jones, who has been paired with Americans Daniel Berger and Gary Woodland for the first two rounds.
“It actually helps me. I like to hit a low ball-flight naturally – I’m not a high ball-flight hitter.
“Historically I would say the more wind the better for me.”
PGA National is renowned for three holes in the closing stretch dubbed ‘The Bear Trap’.
Beginning with the 179-yard par-3 15th, the Bear Trap is regarded as one of the toughest three-hole stretches of golf on tour, with ever-present water on the par-4 16th and 190-yard par-3 17th the ultimate test of character under pressure.
Yet Jones highlighted another three-hole stretch earlier in the round which – while not as treacherous – can quickly bring a round undone.
“The tee shot on five is very difficult,” Jones added.
“Especially the way the wind comes from. A lot of the times we have it a lot off the left, trying to
work it into it, you pull it, you’re in the hazard, you block it right and then the green, to get up-and-down, is not easy.
“Six is probably the toughest hole on the golf course. Especially with that tee shot. You got to take on the water but if you come out of it you’re in the bunker, in the rough, and then that green’s just really hard. To get close to the pin is very tough. Especially when they have the greens at 13 and they’re really firm which they probably will be this year.
“Seven is just a very tough par-3 as it is as well. The wind, hitting that green in reg (regulation) and the pin locations… It’s a big, long green too, so it’s hard to get close to the pins anywhere there.
“It’s always a test and a battle out here. It’s more of a course where you just try and battle along and just make pars, make a couple of birdies here and there and limit your mistakes.
“That’s what I did last year and hopefully I’ll do this year.”
Joining Jones in the field in Florida this week are Lucas Herbert and Brett Drewitt while 11 Aussies and Kiwi Ben Campbell will contest the Royal’s Cup on the Asian Tour.
Campbell was runner-up at the Vic Open a fortnight ago while Queensland’s Andrew Dodt will try to tap in to the form he produced to finish second at the Australian PGA Championship last month.
Round 1 tee times AEDT
The Honda Classic
PGA National (Champion Cse), Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
4.29am Lucas Herbert, Sungjae Im, Louis Oosthuizen
4.40am Matt Jones, Daniel Berger, Gary Woodland
5.24am* Brett Drewitt, Greyson Sigg, Callum Tarren
Defending champion: Matt Jones
Past Aussie winners: Stuart Appleby (1997), Adam Scott (2016), Matt Jones (2021)
Top Aussie prediction: Matt Jones
TV schedule: Live 6am-10am Friday, Saturday; Live 5am-10am Sunday and Monday on Fox Sports 503
Grand Prix Golf Club, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
11.25am Daniel Fox, Danthai Boonma, Denwit Boriboonsub
11.35am Jake Higginbottom, Poom Saksansin, Micah Lauren Shin
12.05pm Travis Smyth, Nicholas Fung, Raththee Sirithanakunsak
12.05pm* Todd Sinnott, Chikkarangappa S, Jakraphan Premsirigorn
12.15pm Cory Crawford, Arnond Vongvanij, Chonlatit Chuenboonngam
12.25pm Josh Younger, SSP Chawrasia, Panuwat Bulsombath
12.45pm Kevin Yuan, Phanuvich Onchu, Koravich Inmee
4.30pm Scott Hend, Sadom Kaewkanjana, Joohyung Kim
4.50pm Ben Campbell, Rashid Khan, Chapchai Nirat
5pm Will Heffernan, Warun Ieamgaew, Yoseop Seo
5.10pm Ben Eccles, Nirun Sae-Ueng, Aadil Bedi
5.20pm Andrew Dodt, Thitipan Pachuayprakong, Nitithorn Thippong
Defending champion: Justin Harding (2018)
Past Aussie winners: Nil
Top Aussie prediction: Andrew Dodt
Jonsson Workwear Open
Durban Country Club, Durban, South Africa
Mount Edgecombe Country Club
8.10pm Blake Windred, Matt Ford, Anthony Michael
8.20pm Daniel Hillier, Lee Slattery, Jaco Van Zyl
Defending champion: Inaugural event
Past Aussie winners: Nil
Top Aussie prediction: Blake Windred
Omni Tucson National, Tucson, Arizona
Australasians in the field: Steven Alker, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Stephen Leaney, Rod Pampling, John Senden
Defending champion: Kevin Sutherland
Past Aussie winners: Nil
Top Aussie prediction: Rod Pampling
TV schedule: Live 10am-12pm Saturday, Sundayon Fox Sports 503; Live 7am-10am Monday on Fox Sports 505