SYDNEY — Matt Jones talked about the “stress and anxious moments” during his final round at the Australian Open on Sunday.
He wasn’t exaggerating.
Jones overcame a bogey, double-bogey and triple-bogey on the front nine Sunday to escape with a one-stroke victory at the Australian Open after shooting a 2-over 73. Jones, who led defending champion Jordan Spieth by three strokes to begin the day, finished with a 72-hole total of 8-under 276.
Adam Scott, who shot 65 on The Australian Golf Club course Sunday, and Spieth, who shot 71 and missed an eagle attempt on the 18th that could have forced a playoff, were tied for second.
Australian veteran Rod Pampling shot the round of his career on Sunday to break Spieth’s course record at The Australian Golf Club with a 10-under 61. He finished fourth, two strokes back.
Jones, Pampling, Scott and Spieth were frequently tied for the lead over the final hour, but a birdie on the 16th put the Australian a stroke clear.
Jones’ round included holing a bunker shot on the 12th hole for par. There was even drama at the end for the Australian, who dropped his club after hitting his third shot on the par-5 18th, thinking it had gone in the water. The ball landed safely on the green, however, and after being too cautious with his first putt, he holed a three-footer for par that nearly lipped out.
Amazingly, he never fell out of the lead, or a share of the lead, all day.
“I got the job done, but there was a lot of stress and anxious moments,” Jones said. “A lip-in putt on the last to get the win. That bunker shot on 12 was probably the biggest thing because I knew I had some birdies left.”
Jones double-bogeyed the par-3 second hole when it took him two shots to get out of a bunker, then triple-bogeyed the ninth when his approach shot from the rough went into the middle of a lake. He made the turn in 4-over 39 and was tied with Pampling for the lead, with Scott and Spieth one behind.
“I really didn’t help myself there on nine,” Jones said. “But even after the early bogeys, I knew I had time to make it up.”
That he did, shooting 2-under 34 on the back nine, while Scott and Spieth came up short in their attempts to overtake him.
Spieth was impressed with Jones’ resilience.
to come through what he did on 2, 9 and then that par he made on 12,” Spieth said. “Twelve was by far the tipping point in the round.
“We’re the ones who had the most holes remaining so we control it, and for him to go back to whatever he was, 1 or 2 up on me at the time there, was really kind of a game-changer.”
Scott, who trailed Jones by nine strokes at the start of the day, stayed tied for the lead when he made a 15-foot putt for par on the 17th, then pulled back into a tie with Jones when he birdied the last hole — before Jones’ clinching birdie.
“I left myself with a little bit of work to do there on 17, but anytime you want to put yourself in a position to win, you’ve got to make some putts,” Scott said.
Scott is winless this year and his streak of winning at least one tournament every year since 2001 could end if he doesn’t win his final tournament of the year in early December — the Hero World Challenge at his home base of the Bahamas.
Lee Westwood closed with a 69 and finished at 2 over, 10 strokes back. U.S. Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau shot 72 and finished at 4 over, as did European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke after a 76.
Spieth set the previous course record of 63 during the final round last year to win the tournament by six strokes, with Pampling finishing runner-up. It was the first time the Jack Nicklaus-designed course had played at a par-71.
Pampling opened with a bogey but then recorded nine birdies — including 2s on three of the four par-3s on the course — and an eagle.
His birdie on the par-4 17th put him at 8 under, level with Spieth’s record, and the 46-year-old Australian followed with a 60-foot eagle putt on the18th to break the mark.
“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” Pampling said. “I was just trying to get it close on the last, but it tracked nicely and went in. That was a bonus.”
Pampling had a mid-morning start Sunday because his 54-hole total of 4-over was well off the lead. He initially told his family he’d be on a plane and probably home in Brisbane, an hour’s flight from Sydney, by late afternoon.
But when he finished, he was so close to the lead, he had to remain at the clubhouse in case of a playoff.
“That was the plan … my three kids, they’re at home now, they’re going to be like, `Why aren’t you coming how now,’ but hopefully they saw the putt (on the 18th) and they’ll realize why now.”
Jones, Pampling and Australian Nick Cullen, who finished tied for fifth, qualified for the 2016 British Open as the three highest finishers at the Australian Open who are not already exempt for Royal Troon in July.
More importantly for Jones, he joins seven-time champion Gary Player, six-time winner Jack Nicklaus and five-time winner Greg Norman with his name on the Stonehaven Cup.
“I battled away today,” Jones said. “I could have let it slip and let it get away easily, but I fought it out.”