SYDNEY (Reuters) - Former champion and overnight leader Matt Jones made the most of his local knowledge to build a three-stroke lead with a three-under-par 68 on a day of low scoring in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday.
The Australian broke clear of the pack with four birdies after the turn and came through a stumble at the 17th before picking another shot at the last to stand at 13-under going into the final round of the tournament.
American Cameron Tringale shot a 69 for overall second place, a shot better than England’s Paul Casey (71), major winner Louis Oosthuizen (70) and Japan’s amateur world number one Takumi Kanaya (70) in third place on nine-under.
A change in wind direction thinned the blanket of bushfire smoke over The Australian Golf Club that over the first two days of the tournament had players battling visibility problems, stinging eyes and coughs.
Jones knows very well, however, that changeable winds can be a big problem at the suburban course where he is a member and won the Stonehaven Cup in 2015.
“The wind was very tough,” said Jones. “I couldn’t pick my trajectory at first but I ground it out and ended up with a good score.
“I’m going to go off and have some dinner then go straight to bed for some rest.”
Jones, who started the day with a one-shot lead, dropped off the top of the leaderboard after a bogey at the fourth but worked his way steadily back into the lead as his rivals faltered.
There was nothing remarkable about his play, just solid course management that gave him birdie opportunities which he converted.
There was a scare when he ended up in a tyre rut in the fairway-side dirt at the 17th and then went into the gallery but he escaped with a bogey before just missing out with an eagle putt at the 18th.
With major winners Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Mike Weir and Geoff Ogilvy having missed the cut, the tournament was short of star power and organizers would have been pleased to see Casey hit the front after a birdie at the seventh.
The world number 14 foundered with a double bogey at the ninth, however, and bounced from bunker to bunker on the back nine only to rattle in another birdie at the last to stay in contention for a third title of the year.
South African Oosthuizen, one of six players from the International team who came to Sydney to warm-up for next week’s Presidents Cup, mixed three birdies with one bogey in a solid round.
His team mate at Royal Melbourne next week Marc Leishman was another one of 12 players within six shots of the lead after hitting a 70 to stay in the hunt at seven-under.
“I’ve come from a long way back before,” said the Australian.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re four in front or four behind, you’re not going to win a tournament of this caliber against a field like this without playing really good golf.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Michael Perry