Matt Jones played the first 18 holes of the Honda Classic at PGA National this week in 9 under. That alone would have been enough for Jones to grab the second PGA Tour win of his career and first since the 2014 Houston Open. He piled on a few more strokes for good measure, though, and won going away on Sunday at 12 under -- five better than Brandon Hagy.
Jones' 61 on Thursday was the round of the tournament, and when everything is settled at East Lake at the Tour Championship here in a few months, it will end up as one of the best rounds of the entire season. He gained over 10 strokes on the field at PGA National (meaning the field average was over 71 in Round 1), and double-digit rounds like that are always among the handful of best in a given season. Jones was nonchalant about the number.
Matt Jones finished the day gaining 10.49 strokes on the field with his opening 61. It's the most strokes gained by a player in a single round on the @PGATOUR in 2020-2021.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) March 18, 2021
Previous high: Viktor Hovland, +9.76 at Torrey Pines South in round 2 of the Farmers Insurance Open.
"I play golf for a living," he said. "I should be able to shoot a good score occasionally. That doesn't happen as much as I want, but yes, I'm very happy with it."
The next few days were steady for him, even if the leaderboard didn't always reflect it. Aaron Wise took the 36-hole lead with back-to-back 64s as Jones shot 70 in Round 2. But then Jones regained it on Saturday evening as Wise kicked away the 14-under number he briefly got to by playing the last 13 holes in Round 3 in a shocking 8 over as Jones shot a 1-under 69. That late meltdown from Wise on Saturday meant Jones took a three-stroke lead heading into Sunday's finale (the same number he led by after the first round).
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Jones applied the pressure early with birdies at two of the first three in the final round on Sunday, and eventually put the field away with back-to-back birds on Nos. 12 and 13 before rolling home in 68 for the most laid-back win of 2021 thus far. He probably won't remember it that way as the victory nets him a large percentage of his now over $15 million in career earnings, jumps him into the top 50 in the world and secures an invite from the Masters in three weeks.
The five-stroke win for Jones was as emphatic as that crazy 61 in Round 1, and a reminder that not all wins are constructed the same way. A week after Justin Thomas narrowly made the cut and went absolutely maniacal at TPC Sawgrass on the weekend, Jones did the opposite by blasting the field in Round 1 and hanging around long enough to slam the door on Sunday afternoon. Grade: A+
Here are the rest of our grades for the 2021 Honda Classic.
Sungjae Im (T7): Last year's champ was absolutely grinding until the very end. His T7 finish touches off a nice run in which he's quietly finished in the top 32 in seven straight events following the Hawaii swing. He's an intriguing Masters pick given his odds (40-1), his 2020 finish (T2) and his run of good play. Grade: A
Rickie Fowler (T65): The good news is that Fowler made the cut. The bad news is that he lost strokes on approach shots on 20 of his 36 weekend holes. Fowler's 78-71 close was not the thing of dreams, and now he'll go to the Texas Open in two weeks looking for a win that would keep him from missing his first major championship since the 2010 U.S. Open. The self-belief (at least externally) remains world-class, even if the quality of play does not, as Fowler responded to Nick Faldo's shot at him about how many commercials he shoots.
"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," said Fowler. "I am fortunate to have some great partners and make some great commercials, and it's been fun to be able to do that. I would much rather be playing the week of the Masters than working. 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." Grade: C-
Lee Westwood (MC): Westy broke down after an absolutely outrageous March run. He shot a borderline heroic 70 on Thursday followed by a 78 with three doubles in Round 2 on Friday. He said after the 78 he knew last Sunday he was cooked for this week but wanted to honor his commitment to the tournament. Despite the MC, he's now ranked No. 19 in the world and a legitimate contender for the Masters, where he almost always plays well.
"[I ran out of gas] about four days ago," said the 47-year-old Westwood. "I think we both know that this was probably a tournament too far for me after the run I've had the last two weeks. But I felt like I should play here this week. In an ideal world this would have been a week off after finishing second the last two weeks. What can you do? Just felt like one I had to play. Kind of glazed over out there I was so tired." Grade: D