The Bear Trap lies in wait: Final round preview of The Honda Classic

Australia’s Matt Jones takes a three shot lead into the final round at PGA National, but he’ll be chased to the finish line by defending champion Sungjae Im.

For the second time this week Australia's Matt Jones has slept on a three shot lead at The Honda Classic.

This time the 40-year-old will hope he keeps a tight hold on it.

The omens, however, are not good.

In fact, an advantage of three blows over the field, usually something of comfortable one, has assumed the qualities of an exceptionally hot potato at PGA National.

Jones thrashed a brilliant Thursday 61 to grab a first round lead of three, Aaron Wise's pre-cut pair of 64s then left him with that buffer at halfway, whereupon Jones snatched it back.

The Aussie eventually signed for a third round 1-under-par 69 that gave him a 54 hole total of 10-under 200 which leaves him in a strong position to double his win tally on the PGA Tour (he won the Houston Open in 2014).

Wise, who was 2-under-par through five holes, finally carded a 5-over 75 that leaves him on 7-under 203 alongside big mover of the day, JB Holmes, whose 67 saw him jump 14 spots up the leaderboard.

A trio of players are sharing fourth, a shot further back on 6-under - CT Pan (65), Cameron Tringale (69) and Sam Ryder (72) - with defending champion Sungjae Im one of six players in a tie for seventh on 5-under.

Let's take a closer look at his chances of completing back-to-back wins.

Can Im emulate Nicklaus?

Not many players have successfully defended the Honda Classic.

In fact, only one - and he was one of the greatest golfers of the modern era.

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Can Im do what Jack did?

The good news is that although he trails the leader by five, he is only two back of those in second.

He'll also be aware that Holmes is a five-time PGA Tour winner, but he's in poor form. In fact, he hasn't finished inside the top 40 since last February.

He's unlikely to be aware of this fact, but it's one that might be preying on the mind of Holmes himself: he hasn't broken 70 in his last 14 final laps and three times in that stretch he needed at least 80 blows.

Of the others ahead of Im, three (Jones, Wise and Pan) have one PGA Tour win, the others none.

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If they have nerves, Im can pounce and he knows how: last year he was tied fifth at this stage and three shots back.

Not exactly the same, but similar enough to prompt good memories. "Same as last year, windy conditions," he said after Saturday's golf. "I played pretty well, I like it."

He'll hope for a Sunday repeat, too.

He's 12/1 with Paddy Power.

The closing stretch

On Saturday the 'Bear Trap' snapped back.

The three hole run ahead of the 18th includes the par-3 15th (179-yards), par-4 16th (434-yards) and the par-3 16th 175-yards.

In rounds one and two the field averaged 10.78 and 10.28 shots through that run, but it rose to 11.06 on Saturday.

That demonstrates a degree of extra difficulty, but the birdie count really reveals it.

The entire field played it in the first 36 holes and made 118 birdies on Thursday and 86 on Friday.

On Saturday, only those who made the cut played it, but that tally dropped to 9.

Nor did the 556-yard par-5 18th give much solace. It averaged 4.32 through 36 holes and 5.01 in round three. It yielded 156 birdies and 56 eagles pre-cut and just 12 birdies and no eagles after it.

The lesson? Leader Jones said: "They're not birdie holes at all. They're just 'Don't-make-the-biggest-mistake' holes, and I managed to play them even par, which is great."

Second lesson? The forecast suggests less wind Sunday, but these holes can wreck a scorecard. No player will feel safe about a score until he's signed for it.

Wise, who had actually discovered anything can happen all over the course, added: "If you're in the mix you're going to have a chance coming down the stretch, because anything can happen."

The vital final round stats

What's the usual winning combination at PGA National?

Excellent Strokes Gained Tee to Green numbers helps. Last year nine of the top 20 ranked top 10 for that category and similar numbers have been witnessed since 2016.

Also, saving par really matters. Four of last year's top seven finishers were top 10 for Scrambling and again - it's a trend that has maintained down the years.

For all the talk of volatility, the winners here have been in-contention.

There have been 14 Honda Classics at PGA National and no less than 12 winners were T2nd or better after 54 holes.

Last year Im won from T5th and in 2008 Ernie Els won from T8th. Both, however, were only three shots back.


Jones leads the field for SG T2G and ranks 16th for Scrambling so he's very much on track.

Wise has had a good long game (seventh) but needs to improve his short game (23rd), and for Holmes that message is doubly important (he ranks second and 40th respectively).

Of those in fourth Ryder ranks outside the top 40 for Scrambling and Pan outside the top 20 for SG T2G. Tringale, on the other hand, currently ranks 10th for saving par and third for SG Tee to Green.

Jones is rated 11/10 by Paddy Power and has plenty in his favour. Wise is 7/1, Tringale 11/1, Holmes 12/1, Ryder 20/1 and Pan 20/1.

Want a bigger price? Robert Streb is already a winner this year, via a playoff in the RSM Classic at Sea Island.

He ranks second for Scrambling, fourth Tee to Green and he also shot 67 the last time he played a final round at PGA National.

He's part of the scrum in that tie for seventh so he's up against it, but he's also a tasty 66/1.

READ MORE: Phil Mickelson is excited about the state of his game and the future

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