Jones knows his role against Tiger
MARANA, Ariz. -- If a sense of humor mattered, Brendan Jones would be 1-up on the first tee Wednesday.
The Australian golfer who makes his living playing on the Japan Tour would welcome such an advantage when he takes on Tiger Woods in a first-round meeting at the Accenture Match Play Championship, where the world's No. 1-ranked golfer will make his highly anticipated return from knee surgery.
"The first thing I will probably say to Tiger is, 'Can I have three a side?'" said Jones, who has never met Woods. "Maybe one more on the front, in case I don't get to the back."
And he's done his homework, knowing fellow Aussies Nick O'Hern and Peter O'Malley have defeated Woods in this tournament -- accounting for four of his six career losses in the event.
"I haven't had a chance to speak to Nick O'Hern or Peter O'Malley, but I spoke with Stephen Ames and he had some good advice for me," Jones quipped.
The reference was to three years ago, when Ames made the mistake of saying he thought Woods was vulnerable because of some difficulty he was having with his game.
Woods took note of the comments and defeated Ames 9 and 8. Only a 10 and 8 victory is bigger in an 18-hole match.
In truth, Jones had never met Ames. And he's never met Woods, who will greet him along with thousands of others Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
"It's a chance of a lifetime, really," said Jones, 33, who spends most of his time competing on the Japan Tour, where he had eight career victories, including one last year. "I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm just really, really happy to have made the 64 for a start ... I think it's a pretty lucky spot."
Because the Japan Tour schedule does not begin until April, this is Jones' first tournament of the year.
"I'm an Australian, so I've got some sort of chance," he said. "Obviously I know I'm a long shot. I have got nothing to lose. I can just go out, be a lot more aggressive than what I normally would be. And if you say what are my chances? I have some sort of chance ... I would probably put the house on Tiger.
"But I'm not. I didn't fly all this way to try to lose. I'm here to try to beat him. And there's been some funny things [that] happen in sport. And I'm up against it, but I'm hoping that I'll put in a good effort."
Jones played the PGA Tour for one season in 2005 and finished 144th on the money list. Since he was no longer fully exempt, he decided to go back home to Australia and compete in Japan.
While it is a nine-hour commute from Sydney to Tokyo, it is just a one-hour time difference. Jones typically goes to Japan for two- or three-week stints and returns for the same amount of time.
"There's no [courtesy] cars. We have to buy our own lunch. You don't have the media to the point that we have got here or America in general," Jones said. "It's a very friendly tour.
"I love what I'm doing. It's a family decision to a point playing in Japan. I've got a young family now and my wife doesn't travel a lot with me. For right now, I'm very, very happy playing in Japan."
Jones learned he was in the field last week when the Official World Golf Ranking was released and he was in 64th position. Had anyone dropped out, Jones would have moved up, possibly playing No. 2 Sergio Garcia or No. 3 Padraig Harrington.
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But nobody withdrew before the deadline of this World Golf Championship event, in which all the participants are assured of at least $40,000. So that means Jones faces defending champion Woods, who has a 31-6 record in the tournament and has won it three times.
Jones has one appearance in the event, a first-round loss last year to Adam Scott.
"There were a few Australians following us, that's about it really," he said. "A few young girls watching Adam, too."
And he's been getting plenty of good-natured ribbing from friends and relatives.
"They have all said, 'You can beat him, you can beat him.' It's a different format, match play's a funny game, anything can happen.
"Pretty much everybody has said if things don't go your way, just take out his knee. I hope it doesn't have to get to that."
It was Friday morning in Australia when Jones learned that Woods would be making his return.
"I was overjoyed, really," he said. "The chance to play probably the best player of my generation, anyway. So yeah, very, very excited to have the opportunity for one of the most anticipated comebacks in any sport, really.
"And to have a front-row seat to all of it ... it's a great honor."
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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