Matt Jones was cruising to his second Australian Open victory until a little pine cone got in the way of his golf ball.
In the end, it was a single pine cone that nearly turned the 2019 Emirates Australian Open on its head.
For most of the day, it appeared that local boy and 2015 champion Matt Jones was cruising towards a second Australian Open victory until a fairway bunker shot came out a little higher than expected.
Jones’ golf ball hit a pine cone hanging from a tree no further than 50 metres away, and both the ball and the pine cone dropped straight down into the pine needles below.
“I was just hitting it out there to hit a 9-iron on the green and it caught a little pine cone and just dropped straight down”, Jones said after the round.
“I actually didn’t even see the tree limb, it was not even in play.”
Only minutes earlier, South African Louis Oosthuizen had kept some final hole heroics up his sleeve hitting two majestic shots, then rolled in a 10-foot putt for eagle to narrow the lead just single stroke.
Up until this point, Jones had played the par-5 finishing hole at The Australian Golf Club assuming a score of no worse than a bogey would see him claim the Stonehaven Cup.
However, this information (conveyed to him by a reporter) was incorrect.
With his golf ball now sitting in the pine straw and still a long way away from the water-protected 18th green, Jones in fact only had three shots to win with Louis Oosthuizen in the clubhouse at 14-under par.
Jones laid up to the 18th green still thinking he required a bogey or less but soon realised only an up-and-down from the fringe would avoid a playoff with Oosthuizen, Or worse.
Watched on by a large crowd overlooking the 18th green, Jones’ chip shot was all class running just four feet past the hole that he managed hole for victory.
“I was under an assumption that Louis was on a different score, so I kind of let my guard down and relaxed a little, and then when I saw what the score was, that chip became a little tougher, but I was able to get up and down.”
But after a day, and perhaps a tournament that lacked any real drama until the final half-hour of play, even Jones’ final putt provided some late theatrics by just sneaking into the edge of the hole for a 2-under par 69.
“I like to make it interesting,” Jones said.
“This one I could hit it as firm as I wanted. It could have hit the right edge and it would have gone in. But I thought I’d hit it pretty soft and just trickle in the left side.”
Members of the Australian Golf Club will have it a little easier this week with that pesky pine cone no longer inhabiting the airways of the 18th hole.
But Jones will be long gone and the run-in with local fauna just a distant memory as he sips from the Stonehaven Cup. Although it will be more subdued celebration than in 2015.
“Honestly, I’m not a big drinker and I do not look forward to hangovers, especially with three kids,” Jones told the press after the round.
“We’ll have a few tonight somewhere. I’ll probably start with beer. It used to be Jack and coke, but if they make a good margherita, I’d love that.”