Matt Jones hits to the 17th green, where he made birdie.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - Many players would tell you that you can lose a tournament in a handful of holes, but it's impossible to win one that way.But if Matt Jones winds up on top of the leaderboard today, it'd be really tough not to credit a seven-hole stretch over Friday and Saturday.Jones, one of only three players to play the first three Greenbrier Classics and miss the cut every time - John Mallinger and Brian Gay are the others - was at 1 over par coming off the 12th hole on Friday, two shots short of the cut line and staring down yet another disappointing effort on the Old White TPC.As it turned out, the 33-year-old saved his best for when it mattered this time around.
The Arizona State product by way of Sydney, Australia absolutely caught fire, dropping six straight birdies to end Friday's round and carrying the momentum into Saturday and starting the third round with a birdie on No. 1.In a matter of seven holes Jones became a factor, and by the time he finished off Saturday's round of 4-under 66, he sat at 9 under for the tournament, in a tie for fourth place and just five strokes back of leader Johnson Wagner.But as important as that run was, Jones wasn't aware of exactly what he just did."I didn't realize I birdied six in a row, I thought it was five in a row," Jones explained. "You don't even keep track of that when you're out there doing it. So I asked [my caddie] today when I birdied 1, 'Does that count as seven in a row?' I don't know if it does, but it was nice to do and a good time to do it."No kidding.Jones came back from the brink and has blown by other players like an IndyCar in the Tour de France over the past day and a half despite his career struggles on the Old White TPC that includes never breaking par in six competitive rounds.
However, Jones doesn't look at the course as being overly difficult, and despite lackluster results feels at home here. To him, it's more about the time of year than anything else."It's actually a course I feel like I should play well every time," Jones said. "I feel very comfortable here. This is a stretch for me where I'm notoriously ... I don't play well during the summer for some reason, so it's nice to get that off my back right now and hopefully keep going with it."Jones also said the course isn't playing differently from years past despite the different dividends, but he did admit the Old White TPC has seemed to change throughout the week."It's very playable, it's very scorable," Jones said. "The rules officials have done a great job setting the course up and making it playable, especially with the conditions we've had. It will be interesting to see what they do [for today's final round]. The greens are definitely firming up with the sun out there and they're not sticking as much as they were."Jones has 12 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour since turning pro in 2001 but has never finished in the top three.
As the last day of the Greenbrier Classic has shown over its first three years of existence, expect the unexpected on the final day.Despite not being here for a Sunday before, Jones seems to have already learned that lesson."I'll definitely keep an eye on [the leaderboard], but I'm going to make as many birdies as I can and be as aggressive as I can," Jones said. "I'm going to have to because someone, as we saw Stuart Appleby shoot a 59, someone can go out and shoot a 62 [today] and come up from 6 under and win the tournament, so I've definitely got to be aggressive."Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.