The reincarnation of Matt Jones

Mar 20, 2021; Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, USA; Matt Jones walks off the 18th green after his third round of The Honda Classic golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2021; Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, USA; Matt Jones walks off the 18th green after his third round of The Honda Classic golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

This is the eternal charm, intrigue and beauty of the PGA Tour. It is a place where, on any given Sunday, even Matt Jones can win.

Jones entered the Honda Classic at PGA National winless in his last 175 starts. In a field largely deprived of the game’s marquee names, he ranked only 20th on the season in FedEx Cup points.

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Yet he not only won the event, he dominated it. His five-stroke margin of victory translated to 2.91 standard deviations better than the field average, making Jones’ the most dominant showing on Tour since Dustin Johnson frolicked through Augusta National last November.

In terms of Jones’ playing future, that one great week means everything. It earns him a two-year exemption into regular Tour events and a spot in the upcoming Masters, it ensures an invitation to next year’s Players and effectively guarantees him entry into the big-money season-ending Tour Championship series.

There’s also the matter of the $1.3 million check he took home. That’s far more than twice what Jones had won in his 15 previous 2021 Tour starts.

Jones won by displaying a kind of all-around game he had never given evidence of possessing. Relative to the field and as measured by the Strokes Gained system, his play was worth 2.844 strokes off the tee, another 5.893 strokes approaching the greens, and a further 5.563 strokes around the greens. He ranked 10th, seventh and  second in the field in those three categories.

That’s not only other-worldly good for anybody, it’s once-in-a-lifetime other-worldly good for Jones. He began the week ranked 112th in Strokes Gained Driving, 128th in Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and 92nd in Strokes Gained Around the Greens.

And it’s not as if 2021 was shaping up as a poor season for Jones; those rankings are about how he normally rolls. Over the most recent five full seasons, here are Jones’ performances (and ranks) in the four fundamental Strokes Gained categories.

                  Tee                         Approach            Around                 Putt

2016       -0.039 (113)        -0.233 (148)       0.197 (43)           -0.314 (159)

2017         0.073 (86)          -0.468 (176)        0.503 (3)               0.170 (67)

2018         0.333 (38)          -0.386 (177)        0.192 (45)          -0.034 (123)

2019         0.304 (41)          -0.148(137)         0.352 (8)               0.120 (67)

2020         0.159  (70)         -0.438 (175)        0.089  (73)           0.061 (92)

Yet because the PGA Tour is a place where it is entirely plausible to catch lightning in a bottle, Jones reigns as this week’s champion. It is his second career victory, his first coming at the 2014 Shell Houston Open, which he took in a playoff with Matt Kuchar.

Jones parlayed that first win into nothing much, missing the cut at the following week’s Masters, and landing no more top 10s until the following February’s ATT National at Pebble Beach (he tied for 7th). Prior to Sunday, he had failed to place among the top three in 142 consecutive starts dating back to June of 2015.

To the extent Sunday’s event had any drama, it ended on the 12th hole. Jones came to that 438 yard piece of prime Florida real estate leading his closest pursuer, Brandon Hagy, by five. But he followed a perfect drive with a wedge to within 18 feet, then center-cut the putt for a three.

Next. Honda Classic: Winners and Losers from PGA National. dark

The rest was performance theater, Jones capping it with a 15-foot putt for a birdie at the 16th, the middle leg of the Bear Trap. So comfortably home was he that at the 18th, a get-able par five, Jones didn’t even bother trying to reach the green in two from 230 yards out. Instead he wedged up to a safe distance, then wedged again to the exact center of the green, and two-putted his way to the title.

In front of the renewed gallery that has been mostly missing on Tour for a year, it may have amounted to an extended victory lap. But considering how long he had waited, Jones was in no hurry.