Sydney, November 28: They play regularly in practice rounds, they even played a quiet “money game” on Tuesday; but tomorrow Matt Jones from Australia and American Jordan Spieth will play for all the Emirates Australian Open marbles.
While both men, good mates from the US PGA Tour, downplayed the prospect of a final-round matchplay situation developing, twin late charges today made it more than likely that the winner of the Stonehaven Cup will come from their final pairing.
Hometown hero Jones carded his third straight impressive round – his three-under-par 68 built on three birdies in his final five holes – to hold a three-shot lead at 10 under par.
Spieth, who flirted with his title defence early today when he was three over par in his opening four holes, was even faster home with three birdies and a spectacular eagle in his closing seven holes to reach seven under.
Australian Rhein Gibson (68) played his way into contention at five under, while compatriots Aron Price and the never-say-die Lincoln Tighe will tee up tomorrow at four under after each carded 70 today.
Geoff Ogilvy’s putter remained cold as he shot even-par to stay three under, while fellow Aussies Adam Scott (68), Brett Rumford (69), and Todd Sinnott (74) and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke (70) are all at one under, the only others under par.
Jones, like Spieth, based in Texas, said playing with the defending champion on a regular basis would help him overcome nerves tomorrow.
“Definitely. I’ve played many rounds with Jordan on the PGA Tour and in practice rounds. He’s a great guy, number one in the world and just very humble and very down to earth, which is fantastic,” Jones said.
“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun out there. We can joke around out there, which is good, because you can’t do that with a lot of other golfers and that will make it more enjoyable to be out there.
“(There’d) be no better person to beat on the final day and have him in the group with me. To have the chance to win is what you want, and to go up against the number one in the world is even better."
After his potentially calamitous opening stretch, Spieth, pumped in his title defence, went seven under – even with a bogey on the eighth – in a run inspired by caddie Michael Greller.
"Michael did a great thing of setting the goal for me there,'' the 22-year-old said.
"He said, 'Right, let's get to even par for the day by the time we step on 18 tee box. That way we can shoot under par and move on'.
“He said, 'Enough of this crap. No bad self-talk. Let's hit some greens, you've got some easy holes coming up'.
“That's all I really needed to hear to help turn it around.''