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Jones wins Honda Classic by 5 shots, earns spot in Masters

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Matt Jones, of Australia, raises his ball after winning the Honda Classic golf tournament, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – When Matt Jones won his first PGA Tour title seven years ago, he needed a 45-foot birdie putt just to get into a playoff and then a 40-yard chip-in to take the victory.

This win was far less dramatic, yet just as meaningful.

It got him back to the Masters.

Jones won the Honda Classic by five shots Sunday, a final round of 2-under 68 good enough to finish the week at 12-under 268 at PGA National. The margin matched the largest in tournament history, tying the mark set by Jack Nicklaus in 1977 and matched by Camilo Villegas in 2010.

“It’s been seven years. It’s been a tough seven years," Jones said. “I’ve had ups and I’ve had downs, as all golfers have, but it gets me into a lot of big tournaments now."

The 40-year-old Australian earned $1.26 million and, this time, he’ll have more than a day to prepare for the trip to Augusta National. His win at the Houston Open in 2014 — and his Masters invite — came just one day before he had to go to Augusta, making it a scramble to get family and friends together to share in the experience.

The Masters starts April 8, so he's got much more time to plan this one.

“It’s going to be nice," Jones said. “I can go prep for the Masters this time. Last time it was an absolute blur. I can’t remember a thing about it, so I’m going to do some prep this time before."

Jones started the week with a course-record-tying round of 9-under 61. He was three shots behind Aaron Wise after 36 holes after a second-round 70, and his round of 69 on Saturday was good enough to put him up by three entering Sunday.

Brandon Hagy (66) finished 7 under and alone in second on his 30th birthday, his chance at winning doomed by a third-round 76. Chase Seiffert (64), Brendan Steele (65), C.T. Pan (70), Denny McCarthy (67) and Russell Henley (68) tied for third at 6 under.

“There’s a lot of tough holes out there and there’s big stakes for sure, but I’ve been working on some good stuff and it’s nice to see some of that pan out,” Hagy said.

The only stretch where Jones’ grip on the lead seemed in peril was midway through the round; Wise, who once led by six shots during the third round, had four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the front and got within one of the lead.

Wise’s chances ended at the par-4 10th. He hit his second into a bunker, then four-putted from 25 feet for triple-bogey. Jones’ lead went to four, and he avoided trouble the rest of the way, while Wise finished with a 73 and tied for 13th at 4 under.

J.B. Holmes was in the final group with Jones, three shots back to start the day, and his chances were gone very quickly. He ended up with a costly final-round 79 for Holmes; second place, where he started the day, paid Hagy $763,000 while the tied-for-46th finish paid Holmes $19,070.

Holmes knocked his shot from a greenside bunker off the green and made bogey on the opening hole, then sent his tee shot way right on the par-4 second and needed about 10 minutes to find the ball — it was nestled among palm fronds — and decide how to proceed.

He went on to make double bogey there, and when Jones birdied the par-5 third Holmes’ deficit had gone from three to eight shots in about 45 minutes.

At that point, only a few had a realistic chance at catching Jones. Before long, the outcome was obvious.

“You can't get a tougher golf course to win on than this one, in these conditions," Jones said. “To be able to do that on this golf course is amazing and something I can build on for the future, hopefully."

DIVOTS: Phil Mickelson started 3 under through three holes Sunday and finished with a 70 on the day, 2 under for the tournament. “I was really impressed with the golf course and the setup was terrific,” Mickelson said. ... U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker shot 69 Sunday and was 4 under for the week. ... Rickie Fowler and Bronson Burgoon, the first group off Sunday morning, played in about 3 hours, 20 minutes. ... Nobody has shot four rounds in the 60s at the Honda since 2017. The four players who had a chance to do it Sunday — Keegan Bradley (74), Holmes, Cameron Tringale (72) and defending champion Sungjae Im — all fell short. Im came closest, shooting 70 Sunday and finishing 5 under to tie for seventh with, among others, Villegas and Zach Johnson.

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