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Shane Lowry 6 off the lead after Honda Classic first round
The Offaly man was able to do the school run after his impressive start.

SHANE LOWRY LEADS the Irish challenge at the Honda Classic after an encouraging three-under 67.

The Offaly man is six off the leader Matt Jones, who fired a bogey-free nine-under par 61 at PGA National.

With his family based in the Florida area, Lowry was able to sign for his card and then go to pick up daughter Iris from school. 

“Yeah, it’s actually strange,” he said. “It’s lovely, but I’m not really sure it helps a whole lot because it’s just — I suppose it’s different. You’re staying at home in your own bed and I’ve got my family there, but they travel with me a lot anyway. Like they still have their life going on this week, like I’m heading out to pick my daughter up from school. You know what I mean?

“I’m playing golf this week and I’m working, but I’ve got my normal weekly routine, as well. It is nice to be here, though, because this is a home game for me because we’ve moved down here, so yeah, it’s nice.”

It was a poor day for Graeme McDowell, however, who carded a nine-over 79 and lies one from the bottom of the leaderboard. Ryder Cup skipper, Pádraig Harrington shot a two-over 72. 

40-year-old Australian Jones, meanwhile, tied the mark set by American Brian Harman in the second round of the 2012 event thanks to birdies on the last three holes on a windy day at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

“It was a very good day,” Jones said. “I struck the ball well actually all day, and it was probably one of the better ball-striking days with my irons that I’ve had for a long, long time.”

Jones, a two-time Australian Open champion who captured his only US PGA Tour title at the 2014 Houston Open, fired the lowest round in his 14-year US tour career, breaking his prior best of 62 in the 2013 final round at Greensboro.

“I hit it really nicely,” Jones said. “You have to be able to control the ball. It was windy out there, and I turned with a good score, and then you know what you’ve got ahead of you and I was just lucky to make a few more birdies.

“I hit a lot of good shots, and I made the putts when I hit it close.”

Americans Aaron Wise and Russell Henley shared second on 64, three strokes back, with Aussie Cameron Davis and Americans Steve Stricker, Kevin Chappell, Joseph Bramlett and Scott Harrington on 66.

World number 83 Jones delivered the best opening round since the event moved to PGA National in 2007, two shots lower than Rory McIlroy’s old mark from 2014.

England’s Lee Westwood, coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes, opened on 70 thanks to back-to-back birdies to end his round. He was impressed at how well Jones played.

“That’s an incredible round of golf. Could be the round of the year,” Westwood said.

“(A) 61 around here when it’s flat calm is the best of it, but when there’s a 15-20 mph wind blowing, greens are fast, a lot of cross winds, that’s an incredible round of golf.”

Jones, who was 55th last week at the Players Championship, has two top-10 efforts this season, a share of fourth in November at Bermuda and a share of eighth last month at Riviera.

Jones reeled off four birdies in a row starting with a 14-foot putt at the par-4 second. He blasted out of a greenside bunker to two feet and tapped in at the par-5 third, then dropped approach shots inside five feet and sank birdie putts at the par-4 fourth and par-3 fifth.

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“I actually didn’t know I made four in a row until I saw it on the scoreboard on 18,” Jones said. “I didn’t even think about it. You can’t think about that on this golf course because every hole can bite you.

“I don’t know if you ever know it’s special. I was just managing the golf course and hitting good shots.”

Jones rolled in birdie putts from just under 17 feet at 11 and just over six feet at 13, then made a clutch par putt from nine feet at the par-4 14th.

He began his closing birdie binge by dropping his approach inches from the cup at the par-4 16th and tapping in, then sank a 23-foot birdie putt from off the green at the par-3 17th.

“Made a few putts, and to make a putt from off the green on 17 was good,” Jones said.

He closed by driving the green in two at the par-5 18th and two-putting from 53 feet, knocking in the last from just inside five feet.

Australian Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, eagled the 18th, his ninth hole of the day, for his first eagle in 21 rounds at PGA National.

- additional reporting AFP 


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