PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Matt Jones didn’t seem overly impressed.
“I play golf for a living,” Jones said. “I mean, I should be able to shoot a good score occasionally. It doesn’t happen as much as I want.”
Well, it happened Thursday in the first round of the Honda Classic.
On the windswept Champion Course at PGA National, Jones somehow shot a bogey-free, 9-under-par 61 to tie the course record set by Brian Harman in 2012 and move three ahead of the field midway through the opening 18.
His round was so good that playing partner Adam Hadwin joked he stopped saying, “Good shot,” sometime during the round.
“He just hit so many, you just stop saying it. You’re just under the assumption that it was good,” Hadwin said. “It was one of the best rounds I’ve seen in my life. He didn’t make any mistakes. It was fun to watch.”
Just don’t expect Jones to start doing cartwheels or high-fiving everyone in sight despite shooting the lowest score of his 14 years on the PGA Tour. Or doing so on the same course where not a single player in any round last year shot 65 or better – the first time that’s happened on the PGA Tour in a non-major since 1996.
Jones hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation and 10 of 14 fairways, needed just 24 putts and ranked No. 1 in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green. He made birdies from 14, 2, 4, 4, 17, 6, 23 and 5 feet and another from 6 inches.
“I’m very happy with it,” Jones said. “I was very calm, I was very relaxed out there. I’m normally a bit more amped up and I had a different goal this week, to be a little bit more calm and walk slower.”
Aaron Wise and 2014 Honda winner Russell Henley each shot 64.
“I felt like I played amazing today,” Wise said. “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.
“For Matt to shoot 9 under, that’s an amazing round.”
Jones tied for fourth in 2008 in his tournament debut but has just one top-20 in six starts since. But he was reminded earlier this week about his debut when his name was prominent on the leaderboard all week.
“Someone sent me a screenshot of that leaderboard yesterday, so it was good to see that,” Jones said. “It’s just a difficult golf course. If you’re off a little bit you can’t get away with it around here. It was good to make birdies and get away with it.”
Jones, 40, is ranked No. 83 in the world and has one – the 2014 Shell Houston Open – PGA Tour title. But with birdies on half the holes – four consecutive on the front nine and three consecutive to end his round – he took a big step toward winning No. 2.
“I actually didn’t know I made four in a row until I saw it on the scoreboard on 18. I didn’t even think about it,” he said. “You can’t think about that on this golf course because every hole can bite you.
“It was probably one of the better ball-striking days with my irons that I’ve had for a long, long time. You have to be able to control the ball. It was windy out there, and I turned with a good score, and then you know what you’ve got ahead of you here, and I was just lucky to make a few more birdies.”