SYDNEY: Matt Jones followed in the footsteps of boyhood idol Greg Norman by winning the Australian Open on Sunday, holding off the challenge of world No.1 Jordan Spieth and former champion Adam Scott.
Australia’s Jones, 35, fought back from a horror start to his final round, dropping three shots in his opening two holes and also taking a triple bogey at the ninth, to win by a stroke
The Sydney-born player regrouped to post a final round two-over-par 73 and claim the honours with an eight-under-par 276 total.
Spieth missed a 15-foot eagle putt at the last that would have sent the event into a play-off, with his 71 ensuring a share of second place at seven-under-par with Australia’s Scott (65), who won in 2009.
“I am just so happy to have my name on this trophy and it is something I have thought about since I first met Greg [Norman] when I was six years of age,” said Jones, ranked 81 in the world.
“I tried hard not to think about that this week and you never know what sort of day you can have on the golf course as we saw with what happened over my front nine.
“But to have my name on this trophy with the likes of [Jack] Nicklaus, [Jack] Newton, [Greg] Norman and so many greats of this game is a dream come true for me knowing now I am an Australian Open winner.”
Jones’s victory earned him a place in next July’s Open Championship at Royal Troon.
However, it was a tense last few minutes as defending champion Spieth attempted to force a play-off, but his eagle putt slid by the hole with the two-time major winner ending with a birdie.
British Open beckons
He was gracious in defeat, singing the praises of his good friend.
“I would have been pretty excited to be in a play-off with Matt as that would have added to this week as the crowds have just been unbelievable and much bigger than last year,” said Spieth.
“But for Matt to win is well deserved.”
Spieth now heads to his second tournament defence in succession and Thursday’s Tiger Woods-hosted Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
At the conclusion of that tournament, he will take a month-long break before resuming competition at the Tournament of Champions at Maui in Hawaii in January.
“It was tough this year the way the dates fell but I am going to really try hard and soak-in as much as I can as from the end of next week to heading out to Hawaii will be the longest break I will have had this year,” he said.
Joining Jones at next year’s 145th British Open Championship will be fellow Australians Rod Pampling and Nick Cullen.
Pampling came from 14 shots back at the start of the final day to shoot a new course record 10-under 61 in a round that began with a bogey and ended with a 60-foot eagle to give him fourth place, two strokes behind the winner.
Cullen shot a last-day 68 to share fifth place and earn the third qualifying place at the British Open.