By RAY MCCARTHY
ORLANDO, Fla. – PGA Tour veterans aren’t lining up to serenade rookie Matt Jones with words of wisdom from their experiences playing down the stretch on Sundays.
Jones just doesn’t need it.
“Actually, he should probably be giving me advice,” 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy said.
Jones, an Australian countryman of Ogilvy’s, has vaulted to 44th on the 2008 PGA Tour money list and is 8-for-8 in cuts made, including this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“Now that I’ve been out here and played with the guys, I know I can compete out here,” Jones said. “My goal is just to play well every week.”
In those eight starts, Jones’ best chance for victory came March 3 on the back-nine of the Honda Classic where he found himself just one shot out of the lead playing the treacherous par-3 17th at PGA National’s Champion course. His tee shot found the water and he made double bogey to drop into a tie for fourth.
“I can only build from this experience,” Jones said afterward. “I’ve never been in contention in my career on the PGA Tour so I can only take positives out of it.”
Jones’ close call at the Honda is part of a frustrating recurring theme that dates back to his four-year stint on the Nationwide Tour. In 2007, Jones finished runner-up four times, one shy of the tour’s record.
His biggest disappointment came at the Mark Christopher Charity Classic in November, where he lost in a three-man playoff after finding a water hazard on the first extra hole.
“I kind of gave that one away,” said Jones, who also lost in a playoff at the Nationwide’s Oregon Classic in ‘07. “That was probably my best chance of winning.”
Ogilvy has yet to play with Jones on Tour, but from what he’s seen, Ogilvy thinks Jones’ inability to close isn’t from lack of talent or a flawed mentality.
“It’s just one of those things… one of those years when it wasn’t his time,” Ogilvy said. “I don’t think he has a closing-the-deal issue. I’m sure if he has 15 more (second-place finishes) then it might be an issue, but not now.”
Along with his talent, Jones’ success has spawned from an unphased mentality on the golf course, and a Tour win won’t elude him for long, according to Ogilvy.
“If he was struggling, you might play a practice round with one of the young guys,” Ogilvy said, “but I don’t think he’s struggling. He’s a pretty good player.”
Jones’ career began as a junior golfer in Sydney, Australia, where his father, uncle, and brother, Brett, would play as a foursome any chance they had.
“If I had to skip a day at school, I’d skip,” Jones said. “I did pretty well as a junior golfer.”
Jones captained his school’s soccer team for two seasons, but chose to concentrate on golf after a recruiting trip to Arizona State.
“After seeing the facilities (ASU) had, it was quite easy to make that decision,” said Jones, who medaled at the 2001 NCAA West Regional and was named a first-team All-American the same year.
Jones is tied for 32nd through three rounds at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He got it to 3 under and was just three shots off the lead until he made double bogey at the Bay Hill’s 16th hole and a bogey at 17. Jones enters the final round six shots back of the lead.
“I just want to get out there, play with the best, compare my game to theirs and see what happens,” Jones said.
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Ray McCarthy is a Golfweek assistant editor. To reach him e-mail email@example.com.