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Thursday October 28th, 2021 4:36AM

Matt Jones ties course record with 61 in Honda Classic

By The Associated Press
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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Matt Jones’ opening round at the Honda Classic was remarkable.

He was remarkably unimpressed.

Jones tied the course record Thursday on a typically windy day at PGA National with a bogey-free 9-under 61 giving him a three-shot lead. He matched the mark set by Brian Harman in the second round in 2012, and was one shot better than the final-round 62 that Tiger Woods posted that year.

“That’s an incredible round of golf," said Lee Westwood, who opened with an even-par 70. “Could be the round of the year, 61 around here, when it’s flat calm, impressive. But when there’s a 15-, 20-mile-an-hour wind blowing, greens are fast, a lot of crosswinds, that’s an incredible round of golf."

All told, there have been roughly 6,000 tournament rounds at the Honda since it moved to PGA National in 2007. None was better than the one Thursday from Jones, an Australian ranked No. 83 in the world.

He seemed most unfazed afterward.

“I play golf for a living," Jones said. “I mean, I should be able to shoot a good golf score occasionally. It doesn't happen as much as I want. But yes, I'm very happy with it. I was very calm, I was very relaxed out there. I'm normally a bit more amped-up and hyped-up and I had a different goal this week, to be a little more calm than normally and walk slower."

It worked wonders.

He's not into charting superlatives. He doesn’t know how many course records he holds, or how many holes in one he’s made. He wasn’t even aware he had four consecutive birdies on the front nine Thursday until he saw his card on a giant leaderboard as his round was ending.

“I was just managing the golf course and hitting good shots,” Jones said.

Russell Henley and Aaron Wise shot 64s, matching the best score at the Honda by anyone — Jones excluded — since Rory McIlroy and Russell Knox had 63s in 2014. Nobody in the field last year shot better than a 66.

And Henley and Wise still walked off the course three shots back.

“That’s an amazing round,” Wise said. “But I felt like I played one, too.”

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker, Scott Harrington, Kevin Chappell, Joseph Bramlett and Cameron Davis shot 66. Defending champion Sungjae Im opened with a 68.

Jones had the four consecutive birdies on Nos. 2-5, had others on the par-4 11th and par-4 13th, then finished with birdies on each of his final three holes and never dropped a shot despite the Honda’s usual windy conditions.

Adam Hadwin, who played in Jones’ group, said “good shot” more times than he could count.

“I just stopped saying it at a certain point,” Hadwin said. “He just hit so many, you just stop saying it. You’re just under the assumption that it was good.”

Jones has just one PGA Tour victory, that coming with a chip-in to win a playoff at the 2014 Houston Open. He hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2016 British Open and has never finished better than tied for fourth at the Honda, doing that in his debut at the event in 2008.

“Whatever Matt Jones is doing, I want to see it because 61 out there is incredible," said Shane Lowry, who shot 67 in his opening round. “That’s just incredible."

It was still a befuddling day for many. Graeme McDowell played the “Bear Trap” stretch — the par-3 15th, par-4 16th and par-3 17th — in 6 over, after making a quadruple bogey at 15 and a double bogey on 17. And Hunter Mahan had a six-hole stretch in which he made, in order, eagle, bogey, bogey, triple bogey, bogey, birdie.

Mahan finished at 77, McDowell at 79.

“It’s just so hard, so tricky," Lowry said. “There’s a lot of disaster holes."

Jones, at least for one day, avoided them all.

“It was a very good day,” he said.

DIVOTS: Among notables, Zach Johnson was in a group six shots back after shooting 67, Rickie Fowler finished even par and Phil Mickelson shot a 1-over 71. ... Sean O'Hair (80) withdrew after the round and James Hahn withdrew after 16 holes with a rib injury. ... Erik Compton, a South Florida native and two-time heart transplant recipient, finished at even par. Compton was a Monday qualifier this week. ... This is the 15th time the Honda is being played at PGA National. No first-round leader on this course has won the tournament; the last first-round leader to win the Honda was Justin Leonard in 2003 at Mirasol. ... The previous best first-round score at the Honda was 62 by Tim Herron in 1996, at Eagle Trace.

___

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