After having to make the gut-wrenching decision to miss defending his Australian Open title last year, 2015 champion Matt Jones will return for this year’s event with one thought on his mind – to win it again.
Jones will return to The Australian Golf Club, the scene of the biggest win of his career, to attempt to wrestle the Stonehaven Cup back from defending champion Jordan Spieth at the tournament starting on November 23.
The 37-year-old from Oyster Bay will be buoyed by his impressive fifth-placed finish at last week’s Web.com Tour Championship event in Florida, where he regained his full PGA Tour playing rights having lost his card in 2016.
Jones started the final round in 47th place on the overall standings but shot a final round 67 to jump to 17th, with the top 25 players earning cards to play on the main tour next season.
Jones will be one of the main draws in Sydney alongside Spieth and 2015 PGA Champion Jason Day and told the Leader from the US he was excited to return home for his national open.
“It's a tournament I look forward to playing every year,” he said.
“I don't view it as a belated [title] defence at all. Last year I had to make a few tough decisions and skipping the Open was one of them. I had a tough year on tour so that meant not being able to defend.
“It was great to see Jordan win again and it's great that he came back to defend. I will be doing what I can to stop him defending this year.”
Jones grew up learning the game at Kareela Golf Club, where he had his first hole in one when he was six-years-old, before moving to Liverpool at the age of 13. Two years later he met Gary Barter, his long-time swing coach.
Jones would ride his bike from Oyster Bay across the Como bridge to coach Barter’s house on the St George side. Night after night he would make that trip and then get to work in Barter's garage at Oatley.
It was around that time Jones joined The Australian and his intimate knowledge of the famed Rosebery layout helped him put together a courageous final round two years ago to hold off a charging Spieth and 2013 US Masters champion Adam Scott to fight back to win by one shot after almost blowing a three-stroke lead.
“Winning the Stonehaven Cup in 2015 is probably the biggest win of my career. Winning the Australian Open at your home course in front of so many family and friends was an amazing feeling and something I often reflect on,” Jones said.
“I had a couple of tough decisions last year. Skipping the Olympics was one and not defending the open was another. Those decisions I had to make because of my poor play on tour that year.
“You don't get to defend a title very often so to skip defending your national open was a very tough decision.
“I'm coming back with the intent of winning again. Everyone playing will have the same goal and that will be to win. I know the course well so I have a little advantage in that regard.”
Golf Australia chief executive Stephen Pitt said Jones’ enthusiasm for the challenge was typical of the spirit he expected at The Australian.
“It brought the house down when Matt won on his home course in 2015 and there was such drama when Jordan won the playoff last year,” Pitt said.
“It will be special to see them both back vying for the Stonehaven Cup together.”
Jones went straight from Florida to California for the opening event of the 2017-18 US PGA Tour season at the weekend, teeing up at the Safeway Open in Napa where he made the cut, finishing in a tie for 43rd at three under.
But Jones said he hoped to take some time to enjoy himself at home next month.
“I get back to the shire about once a year,” he said.
“I would like it to be more but with a young family and my lifestyle it makes it tough. But we can't wait to get back on November for a few weeks.”