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Jones sinks birdie at the last to lead in smoky Sydney

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Former champion Matt Jones slotted a birdie putt under smoke-filled skies at the final hole to take a one-shot lead over Paul Casey and Dimitrios Papadatos at the halfway stage of the Australian Open on Friday.

The smoke caused by bushfires that have raged around Sydney for the last month once again cast an orange haze over the course and charred leaves were falling on the fairways when the late-starting Jones reached the end of his round.

“It’s not the easiest to breathe, our eyes have definitely been stinging quite a bit,” said Jones, his voice hoarse from the smoke.

“I’ll be happy to get inside and get in the air conditioning. I won’t be doing anything else for the rest of the day. Hopefully rest and get a good night’s sleep.”

Jones is a member at The Australian Golf Club and, smoky skies aside, clearly enjoys the suburban lay-out where he held off Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott to win the Stonehaven Cup in 2015.

On Friday, he snared seven birdies against a single bogey for a six-under-par 65 to edge ahead of England’s Casey and fellow Australian Papadatos (66) on 10-under for the tournament.

“It would have been better to be more in front, but I’ll take one in front,” he said.

“Still a long way to go. I’m sure the wind is going to pick up the next two days, which will make it a little tougher.”

World number 14 Casey set the pace on day two of his maiden Australian Open with a sparkling 65 that underlined his determination to win the tournament.

It was a bad day for Australian Scott and his fellow major winners Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Mike Weir and Geoff Ogilvy, who all missed the cut and will have the weekend off.

That was particularly disappointing for Scott, who was looking to play himself into form for next week’s Presidents Cup in Melbourne, where Els will be the non-playing captain of the Internationals.

Pre-tournament favourite and 2009 champion Scott rebounded from an opening 75 with a 67 on Friday but even par for the tournament was not enough to avoid his first missed cut at his home Open as a professional.

Another former major winner, Louis Oosthuizen, was the best-placed of Els’s team after two rounds, his early 66 putting him in a share of fourth with four other players on eight-under.

“Yesterday afternoon there was a lot of smoke and little bit of wind but today it was clear and it’s not windy so a lot of opportunities,” he said of the morning conditions before the blanket of smoke descended again.

“I’ve been hitting it good and happy where I am.”

Defending champion Abraham Ancer, who will also face the Americans at Royal Melbourne next week, snaked an eagle putt 30 feet across the 18th green for a 66 that kept him in the hunt at four-under.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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