Matt Jones is a day and a solid round away from becoming a two-time Emirates Australian Open champion.
The 39-year-old Arizona-based Sydney professional extended his lead in the third round at The Australian today with a fine 68, three-under par, reaching 13-under overall, rallying on the easier back nine on a day that was difficult for almost everyone.
His nearest challenger is American Cameron Tringale, who came to Sydney with his wife Tasha on a sponsor's invitation and planned a holiday here as well for their anniversary. If Tringale can go low tomorrow, they might have some more celebrating to do.
Tringale is at 10-under after a 69 today, while three players – South African Louis Oosthuizen, England’s Paul Casey and Japan’s boom amateur Takumi Kanaya – are are nine-under, four shots from the lead and still in contention.
Jones is plainly the man to beat, and his back nine of 32 showed it today. After treading water through nine holes and losing the lead to Oosthuizen, he hit iron shots close at the 10th, 12th and 13th holes for birdies to regain the lead, rammed another birdie home at the 16th to extend the break to four. Then after a lapse at the 17th where he drove into a tyre track down the right, he birdied the last, tidying up his work in that economical, clinical fashion that is his wont.
The way he played the par-five 18th was typical of his approach this week; authoritative and unhesitating. After a nice drive, he launched a gorgeous mid-iron shot out over the pond on the right and drew it back on to the green, two-putted for birdie and headed to the media centre for a third, straight day.
He’d endured the travails of the day without so much as a grimace or a change of disposition, even at the 17th, where he drove into a wheel mark, declined a free drop because he feared the ball would plug, then watched his second shot trickle back on to the fairway after it wedged against a spectator’s backpack.
“I was very calm out there today,’’ he said. “My caddie said on the first tee ‘if you’re not nervous’ – I can’t remember what he said – then I must be wrong, because I wasn’t very nervous, I was very comfortable and excited to go out and play.”
It was a topsy-turvy day at The Australian and the fluky breeze and tough pin positions only added to the drama. Jamie Arnold, the Sydney pro, went around in 64, but this was against the grain. He took just 20 putts, which went some way to explaining why this would be the best round of the day by four shots. A 68 was next-best and the scoring average leaked out to 72.
Five players had a hand on the lead at different stages – Jones, Tringale, Oosthuizen, Casey, and New Zealander Denzel Ieremia, who imploded at the final hole when he took on the water and lost. Many players struggled; in the final group, Dimi Papadotas shot a 75 that included a lost ball in a tree on the 12th, and a water ball at the last as well.
Oosthuizen was in front, gave the ground back, then chipped in on the 17th. He shot 70 without playing especially well. Casey wilted in the middle of his round, hitting his approach at the par-four ninth into the left trap and taking a double bogey six, shooting 71. Both remain in with a chance and both are world class.
Casey said he thought he may need a Rod Pampling-esque 61 to win tomorrow.
“Matt played fantastic golf I thought, really good stuff and if he plays like that tomorrow then I think he’ll probably be a bit too tough, because I’m too far back probably, but we’ll see,’’ said Casey. “I played a wonderful round of golf on Friday; I need to try and replicate that tomorrow.’’
Jones looks as though he knows he can win and if he does, he will join the likes of Jordan Spieth, Greg Chalmers, Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley of his contemporaries to have lifted the Stonehaven Cup twice. In 2015 when he won here, he made a double bogey at the ninth and opened the door for everyone, only to bolt it shut again late. This time, he has that experience in his memory bank.
“I’m sure I can draw on it,’’ he said. “I haven’t won a lot of golf in my life. I’ve won (the) Houston Open, won a couple of other smaller tournaments and then the Australian Open, but it’s only four years past, and I’ll draw on some of that experience tomorrow, of course.’’
Jones, Tringale and Kanaya tee off at 12.01 tomorrow. Oosthuizen, Casey and Arnold are in the second-last group at 11.50am.