A Matt Jones blowout — plus five other surprises from the Honda Classic
When Matt Jones lipped out a short putt on No. 11 at the Honda Classic on Sunday, it felt like the door might be creaking open for the rest of the competition.
Not even close.
Jones, who entered the final round with a three-shot lead, followed that bogey with birdies at 12 and 13 to open up a five-shot lead and slam the door on the rest of the field.
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Jones got his week off to a red-hot start with an opening-round nine-under 61. He downplayed the accomplishment afterwards — “I mean, I play golf for a living. I should be able to shoot a good score occasionally,” he said. It was a sign of things to come.
One good round does not a winner make, but as the rest of his competition wobbled their way around PGA National’s slippery greens Jones held steady, offsetting any missteps with brilliance. To win the Honda Classic, pros have to navigate the “Bear Trap,” but Jones handled the three-hole stretch with ease, making two-putt pars on 15 and 17 and squeezing in a final birdie at No. 16, just for insurance.
His final-round 68 sealed a five-shot victory, tied for the largest margin in the event’s history.
Jones was understandably emotional after the win, his first on Tour since 2014.
“It’s been seven years,” he said. “It’s been a tough seven years. I’ve had ups and I’ve had downs, as all golfers have, but I mean, it gets me into a lot of big tournaments now.”
One such tournament? The Masters, in just three weeks’ time. Jones is looking forward to that.
Here are five other things you should know from the Honda Classic finale:
It was a good day to chase…
At day’s end, several of the names near the top of the leaderboard certainly hadn’t started there. Jones was the only golfer in the final seven pairings to finish the day under par. Brendan Steele’s 65 jumped him 31 spots into T4. And Brandon Hagy, who didn’t even get into the field until Wednesday, rebounded from a Saturday 76 with a Sunday 66 to leap from T18 to solo second — on his 30th birthday, nonetheless!
Asked what he’d learned about himself, Hagy sounded encouraged. “I can handle some intense pressure, for sure,” he said. “There’s a lot of tough holes out there and there’s big stakes for sure, but I’ve been working on some good stuff and it’s nice to see some of that pan out.”
What Hagy didn’t realize at the time is that the rest of the competition would fall behind him, leaving him to claim the runner-up check for $763,000 — and the FedEx Cup points that come with it — all on his own.
…and it was a good day for Chase
That’s Chase as in Chase Seiffert, who made the cut on the number. His Sunday 64 rocketed him from T41 to T3. For a guy ranked 125th in the FedEx Cup, that’s massive.
Plus there was Chase Koepka, who fired 67 to climb from T55 to T30, logging his second-highest finish on Tour. He’s got a ways to go to work his way out of the shadow of his older brother Brooks, but Chase has been showing he’s got plenty more game than his 1118 world ranking might suggest. It was neat, too, hearing him talk about how special it was to play so close to his South Florida home in front of family and friends.
“Yeah, it was amazing,” he said. “The fact that I could play in front of my family and friends. I know a lot of people haven’t been able to see me play golf in a while and for the first time a lot of my friends got to see me play, just in general. And I think that was just something really, really special.”
Brooks Koepka teases uncertain return
There’s no question that Brooks Koepka is a supportive older brother (you’ll recall he followed Chase at his Travelers Championship Monday qualifier last summer) and he posted a photo of the two on FaceTime midway through the Honda Classic.
That doesn’t mean he’s above some tough love, though.
“He tried to give me a little bit of a hard time yesterday,” Chase said of his Saturday 74. “But he knew like it was playing tough. I think my caddie told him that technically my track record here is a little better than his — I don’t have a missed cut here and I think he’s got a number of them. Still, he does have a second-place finish. I’ll give him that.”
On Sunday, though, it was another Koepka photo that drew attention. Brooks posted several shots of him rehabbing an injured knee with the caption, “Only 1 way to go from here.” Maybe it’s the crutches and the black-and-white, but that’s not necessarily an encouraging update. We’ll hold off on any injury speculation and just hope instead that before long we have two different Koepkas playing Tour events.
Phil Mickelson is…consistent?
Mickelson and consistency typically go together like olive oil and ice cream. But Mickelson has now played two tournaments in a row without posting a round worse than one over par or a round better than two under. Very un-Phil-like. And he likes it.
“I made a lot of progress, in that there was a lot of difficult shots here with a lot of water and I made a lot of committed swings, and that was a plus,” Mickelson said. “I’m seeing glimpses of playing the way I feel I’m capable of.”
Rickie Fowler’s Masters is in jeopardy
Among the week’s most interesting comments came from Rickie Fowler, who responded to a jab from Nick Faldo about his endorsement deals.
“I know where Nick was trying to come from on that and it’s like competitor to competitor, you’re trying to needle each other and get each other going type of thing,” Fowler said. “I am fortunate to have some great partners and make some great commercials and it’s been fun to be able to do that.”
Plenty of attention has surrounded Fowler of late because he hasn’t played well enough to qualify for this year’s Masters. He was eyeing a win this week at the Honda or in two weeks at the Valero Texas Open. But he removed himself from contention with a Saturday 78 and finished T65.
“I would much rather be playing the week of the Masters than working,” he said after his opening round. “But it’s all part of it. I’m going to keep kicking down the door, if we’re able to do something special in the next few weeks before Augusta, we’ll be there. If not, we’ll keep grinding and we’ll be back in the winner’s circle soon.”
He’ll have one more chance to punch that Masters ticket. After that, the grind continues.