On Saturday at PGA National, Matt Jones posted a workmanlike 1-under 69 to secure the 54-hole lead at The Honda Classic.
Jones, who entered his third day at the Champion course three off the pace of overnight leader Aaron Wise, got off to a nice start with a birdie on the No. 1 hole. But after a three-hole stretch of bogey-par-bogey on Nos. 4-6, his deficit rose to six.
“I saw I was six back, but I really knew six back means nothing on this golf course with the holes we had to go,” said Jones. “So I was just trying to manage my way around, make pars, as many pars as I could really and I was lucky enough to do that and make a couple of birdies.”
Jones was able to manage his way around – in fact he managed it immaculately, offsetting the two dropped shots with birdies on 11 and 14, en route to a 1-under 69.
“I just probably played a little safer. I don’t go at pins. I like to try and control my ball flights in the wind, so I probably take the speed off a lot of the time,” said Jones.
“But, yeah, it’s not lowering expectations, it’s just playing a little more conservatively is a better way to put it.”
The Aussie was also the beneficiary of an epic collapse by the 24-year old Wise, who after after a brilliant start (par-birdie-par-birdie) finished his final 13 holes in 7-over par tumbling to 7 under, and three back of Jones.
Wise, who at one point was 2-under par and 14 under on the tournament, seemed to be on cruise control until a double bogey on the par-4 6th hole sent his round (and potentially his tournament) into a 13-hole tailspin, resulting in five more dropped shots – three of which came on the final four, including a gut-punch bogey 6 on the par-5 18th, the easiest hole at the Champion course.
“It was a rough day,” said Wise. “It started off solid. I think I was 2-under through a few holes and it was just playing really, really hard.
Sounding a bit like a punch drunk boxer, Wise claimed he “played well,” and cited the wind for his woes.
“The forecast was for 10 to 15 and it was a lot more than that. So I honestly felt like I played well,” said Wise, who hit just 7 of 18 greens on Saturday. “The only thing I didn’t do well was manage the wind.
“Sometimes, like, certain putts I felt like all day I had putts that were breaking one way, but the wind was completely the other way and I couldn’t quite figure out how much the wind was affecting them.
“And then I felt like I hit it great with my irons and just not so good off the tee. I was playing from out of position a lot, so it added up to a big number, but luckily with how I played those first two days I’m still in it and still have a chance tomorrow.”
Wise’s late collapse even knocked him out of the final pairing on Sunday: Jones will play with J.B. Holmes, who shot 67 and was tied with Wise at 7 under, but by virtue of a better third round, gets the marquee tee time.
“You’re going to have tough days, you’re going to have hard times, but at the end of the day you just got to look at the bright side and I still have one more round to go out there and get done what I came here to do,” said Wise, who will be paired with C.T. Pan in the second to last group Sunday.
Pan, who shot a bogey-free low-round 65, was tied for fourth, alongside Sam Ryder (72), and Cameron Tringale (69) on 6 under par, one clear of a six-player logjam at 5 under, which included defending champion Sungjae Im (69).
The 2021 Honda Classic
Leaderboard: Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Rd 3)
1. Matt Jones -10 (-1)
2. J.B. Holmes -7 (-5)
2. Aaron Wise -7 (+5)
4. C.T. Pan -6 (-5)
4. Cameron Tringale -6 (-1)
4. Sam Ryder -6 (+2)
7. Keegan Bradley -5 (-3)
7. Sungjae Im -5 (-1)
7. Stewart Cink -5 (E)
7. Brice Garnett -5 (E)
7. Zach Johnson -5 (E)
7. Robert Streb -5 (E)
65 – C.T. Pan
79 – Scott Harrington
7 – Keegan Bradley
0 – Jimmy Walker
7 – Kevin Chappell, Kiradech Aphibarnrat
0 – C.T. Pan, Chris Kirk
Stat Leaders -Thru 54 Holes
– Brandon Hagy (330.9 yards)
– Cameron Tringale (85.7%)
– Stewart Cink (77.8%)
– Kevin Streelman (1.556)
1:20 PM – Keegan Bradley (-6), Sungjae Im (-6)
1:30 PM – Sam Ryder (-6), Cameron Tringale (-6)
1:40 PM – C.T. Pan (-6), Aaron Wise (-7)
1:50 PM – J.B. Holmes (-7), Matt Jones (-10)
DraftKings Odds To Win
– Matt Jones +110
– Aaron Wise +700
– Cameron Tringale +1100
– J.B. Holmes +1200
– Sungjae Im +1200
– C.T. Pan +2000
– Sam Ryder +2200
– Keegan Bradley +2500
Phil Mickelson Talks About The Course
Q: How has this golf course changed over the course of the three days?
Phil Mickelson: “Well, first of all, heading in, this is the best I’ve ever seen this golf course, conditions, setup-wise, like it’s so well done that you got a lot of options.
“It’s playable, it’s tough, it’s difficult, I mean it’s really, really good. It’s been a pleasure to play because, even as the conditions have gotten more difficult, it’s still playable. You can play it with angles, different — it’s just really well done.
“So it’s been a fun week to really test your game and to get rewarded for great shots and you’ve seen some good scores and then also get penalized for poorly truck struck ones like we have seen a lot of high scores. So it couldn’t be better.”