Matt Jones shot a bogey-free round of 9-under par in the opening round of the Honda Classic and will take a three shot lead into day two at PGA National.
The 40-year old Aussie opened his round at the famed Champions course with four consecutive birdies on Nos. 2-5, and then reeled off a hat trick of gains on the three closing holes to post a career-low 61.
“It was a very good day. I struck the ball well actually all day, and it was probably one of the better ball-striking days with my irons that I’ve had for a long, long time,” said Jones, who led with 5.48 strokes gained: approach. “Made a few putts, and to make a putt from off the green on 17 was good.”
Jones’ 61, which tied the tournament low score, set by Brian Harman (Rd 2) during the 2012 edition, was the lowest opening round score in tournament history.
“I mean, I play golf for a living. I mean, I should be able to shoot a good score occasionally,” joked Jones, who entered off a missed-cut at Bay Hill and T55 at Sawgrass.
“That doesn’t happen as much as I want, but yes, I’m very happy with it. I was very calm and I was relaxed out there, which normally I’m a bit more amped up and hyped up, and I had a different goal this week to be a little more calm, walk slower, and that’s what I tried to do today.”
One of the players three off the pace of Jones was 2014 winner Russell Henley, who carded a superb round of 64, highlighted by a five-hole stretch of eagle-par-birdie-birdie-birdie en route to a 6-under 64.
“I felt great on the greens. I made a lot of great putts. Actually great off the tee as well. I don’t think I missed a fairway,” said Henley, who did miss fairways, but only four (of 14).
“So iron play was a touch sloppy, just not really solid, hitting the ball solid.
“But I had some good breaks as well. So everything kind of was going my way today and also feel like I executed inside 10 feet, made some nice par saves.”
The day’s other 64 belonged to Aaron Wise, who offset two bogeys with eight birdies, including three straight on Nos. 1-3, and a final-hole gain to claim a tie for the silver spot.
“I felt like I played amazing today. The first few holes were pretty easy because there was no wind, but once we made the turn and got to the back nine, it was playing incredibly hard,” said Wise, who was T2 in strokes gained: total with 7.49.
“For Matt to shoot 9-under, that’s an amazing round, but I felt like I played one, too, and there’s still some more golf left, so hopefully I can keep going in this tournament.”
A log jam of five players were T4 on 4-under 66, including 54-year old Steve Stricker, who was making his first start at The Honda since a T5 in 2007.
“I played well. I struck it nicely, hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens, gave myself a lot of opportunities,” said Stricker, whose best finish in seven PGA Tour starts this season is a T4 in Phoenix.
“I left a couple out there. I stole one on 17, got it up-and-down on 17. But yeah, stuff that you have to do on days like today when it’s blustery, and the wind would lay down at times and then really blow.
“You had to really pay attention, and club choice was difficult. I managed my way around there pretty well today.”
A resurgent Lee Westwood, who entered off a pair of solo seconds at the Arnold Palmer and The Players, closed with two straight birdies to sign for an even-par 70.
Defending champion Sungjae Im also posted 70, as did 2017 winner Rickie Fowler. Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson opened with a 1-over 71.
The 2021 Honda Classic
Final Scores: Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Score)
1. Matt Jones -9 (61)
2. Russell Henley -6 (64)
2. Aaron Wise -6 (64)
4. Steve Stricker -4 (66)
4. Scott Harrington -4 (66)
4. Cameron Davis -4 (66)
4. Kevin Chappell -4 (66)
4. Joseph Bramlett -4 (66)
9. Six Players Tied -3 (67)
61 – Doug Jones
81 – Kamaiu Johnson
9 – Matt Jones
0 – Rory Sabbatini, Scott Stallings
9 – Andrew Landry
0 – Matt Jones
349 – Brandon Hagy
253 – KJ Choi
13/14 – Adam Long, Aaron Wise
3/14 – Sabatini, Maverick McNealy, Martin Kaymer
16/18 – Scott Brown
4/18 – Ryo Ishikawa