Matt Jones said he never felt comfortable. When the final putt curled into the left lip and dropped to shut the door on Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott, two of the best players in the world, Jones put a fist in the air and arched his back with the palpable relief of man who has almost blown his greatest opportunity.
He tried to lose the Emirates Australian Open all day. He began bogey, double bogey to lose the advantage that he had started with. He triple-bogeyed the ninth after hitting his second shot into the pond in front of the green. Going up the 18th hole with a one-shot lead, he almost hit his third shot into the water, saved by the wind that blew it back on to the green. "Sloppy,'' was how he described his final round. "Terrible,'' was another adjective he drew upon. But Spieth did not play to his usual levels, and Jones' three-shot buffer was enough. Only just.
Jones' par at the last left him at eight-under to win by a shot from Spieth and Scott at seven-under. Thus he will take the Stonehaven Cup back to America with pride.
Nothing will take this moment away from Matt Jones, a boy from Oyster Bay in Sydney's southern shires who graduated from The Australian Golf Club's pennant team, left Australia more than a decade ago to take up a golf scholarship in America, turned professional and reached 35 years of age before he made his name. He chipped in to win in Houston on the US PGA Tour last year and got himself to the Masters at Augusta National, but not even any of that matched a hometown win in the storied Open, the 100th playing of the event, no less.
Matt Jones is a high quality player, world class. Until now, he had flown under the metaphorical radar, living most of the year, as he does, in Scottsdale, Arizona and plying his trade around the planet. That will surely change now. Jones' day has come.
It was a remarkable final day, to be sure. Starting with a three-shot lead and playing with the relentless Spieth, Jones immediately felt the heat with a fat iron shot at the first, then took double from a plugged lie in the bunker at the second. After birdies at the fourth and sixth, disaster struck at the par-four ninth, where he tugged his drive left and then watched his second shot brush the top of a tree in front of him and drown in the pond. By the time he three-putted for a triple bogey seven, his lead had evaporated, and Rod Pampling's unbelievable 61 had the Queenslander in a share of the lead. Adam Scott, on his way to a final-round 65, joined them for a time as well.
Yet Jones did not drop his head; stayed in the moment. "Playing this golf course, the front nine is the tough nine for me,'' he said. "I knew, getting to the back nine with a chance I would … that’s all I wanted to do was get to the back nine with a chance because I know I can birdie some holes out on the back nine, so I was lucky enough to do that.''
At the 12th, he teetered on the brink again when his blocked drive into the pine trees left him only a punch-out option, and his second did not clear the trees. He ended in the front trap, and was playing his fourth shot as he stood over that ball. It splashed out, spun sharply and dropped in the cup. "Normally I’m a very comfortable, very confident bunker player,'' he said. "My bunker play is normally very good, so I knew off a little up slope I knew I was a chance to hole it, worst case I was going to get an up and down, so I was only going to drop a shot.''
Spieth had found the back trap and missed his par-saving putt, and this gave Jones the buffer that he never surrendered. Recovering from a tugged drive at the 14th he made birdie to matched Spieth's, then at the par-four 16th he hit arguably his best shot of the day, a soaring mid-iron shot that drew on the right-to-left win and stopped three metres behind the flag. He rolled in the birdie putt and by this time, knew that Scott was in the clubhouse at seven-under. He was at eight-under.
This was no triumphal march for Jones. At the 17th, he pulled his tee shot into the trees and had to make a tough up-and-down from the right fringe. On the par-five 18th tee, he had a one-shot lead but knew that big swings are possible on that particular hole. Ten thousand or so people crammed into the ampitheatre around the green as Jones hit it in the left trap and laid up short of the pond. Spieth, thinking he might need eagle, went for the green and hit a great shot to five metres, giving him a chance for eagle to extend it.
Jones' pitch flirted with the water to the right, but bounced up to eight metres for birdie, and he left his putt for the victory nerve-racking short by just more than a metre. Once Spieth missed, it came down to that one putt. "It's not the most comfortable putt,'' he said later. "I would've much preferred to leave it to a tap-in or gimme distance, but I was expecting Jordan to make that. I've played enough rounds of golf with him where he makes those putts. He didn't putt well today. I thought he was due to make one and he didn't. I was just lucky it caught the left lip and went in. I thought I'd missed it left but one of those things … it just went in and I was very, very happy.''
Jones grew up idolising Greg Norman; today, his name will be inscribed alongside the Shark on one of the most coveted trophies in the game. ?"It's amazing. It's something I would have thought about from when I was six when I first met him. I tried not to think about it this week because I knew, as you saw today, anything can happen on a golf course. You can be one swing away from doing what I did and having no chance to win.
"To have my name on this trophy with like (Jack) Nicklaus, (Jack) Newton, Norman, all those guys, it’s a dream come true for me and it's something that I can’t have taken away from me.''