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Jones an unlikely leader at Players
He didn't play in 2004, has missed three cuts, is ranked 743rd, yet his 64 tops star-studded field.
By BOB HARIG
Published March 25, 2005
PONTE VEDRA BEACH - For the first time since January and just the second time this year, the five biggest and top-ranked names in golf are competing on the same stage.
Throw in the rest of the top 50 and 82 of the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking and you have the best field to date at the Players Championship.
Then there is Steve Jones, who would seem to be a bit out of his league.
"My wife told me at the beginning of the year I was ranked 1,000," Jones said. "The only difference between myself and Vijay (Singh) is three zeros."
That also happened to be the number of tournaments that Jones played in all of 2004.
But the 1996 U.S. Open champion, who has eight PGA Tour victories but has not finished among the top 10 in five years, hardly looked rusty during the opening round Thursday.
Jones, 46, used seven birdies in an eight-hole stretch to shoot 8-under-par 64 at the TPC-Sawgrass for a one-shot lead over Fred Funk, Zach Johnson and Lee Westwood. Jones is only in the field because of the 10-year exemption he received for winning the Open at Oakland Hills nine years ago.
On a windless, sun-splashed day, none of the top five players - Singh, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen - managed to find his way onto the first page of the leaderboard.
Then there was Jones, ranked 743rd in the world, tearing the place apart.
"I'm surprised, my best round of the year," said Jones, who has made just two cuts in five tournaments this year, with his best score 67 and his best finish a tie for 36th at the FBR Open. "But I knew I was close. I had that feeling something is going to happen. I don't know what's going to happen the next three days, but I felt I had a good one in me, I was due."
There were plenty of other good ones on the opening day of the $8-million tournament.
Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and J.L. Lewis each shot 66. Singh, who has just one top-five finish and no victories on his home course, shot 67 and was in a five-way tie for eighth, along with Padraig Harrington.
Goosen shot 69 and was tied for 20th, and Woods and Mickelson each had 70 and were tied for 30th. Els had 71 and was tied for 51st.
Before the Sony Open in January, Jones had not played on the PGA Tour since May 2003. Pain in his right elbow became so acute that he decided to rest and rehabilitate. When it didn't go away, he opted for surgery.
"I went to a doctor in Montana (in August 2003) and he said, "No wonder it was hurting, you've got a tendon off the bone,' " Jones said. "So he sewed it back on and cleaned up that bone, and about seven months later I could straighten my arm."
Jones did not start hitting balls until June, and would only play once a week until the fall. That is also when he was captain Hal Sutton's assistant for the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
"He was talking about how he was really inspired to get out and play and practice and work hard," Mickelson said. "He's such a talented player and always has been throughout his career. The biggest thing for Steve Jones is motivation. When he's motivated, he's tough to beat."
Maybe Jones should have been playing on that U.S. team that suffered its worst defeat in Ryder Cup history.
Actually, he couldn't.
"There was no way I could play last year," he said. "I was pushing it to start the year (in Hawaii). I wasn't ready. That was the first time I walked four straight days and played four straight days. I still get sore, and I'm at about 50 percent practice level now, maybe even less. Normally I would go out and hit some balls and practice (after the round), but I'm not going to do anything. That's where I'm at."