2005: Post-op Jones begins PGA Tour recovery process

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HONOLULU

As Steve Jones made his way to the locker room after finishing his second round at the Sony Open, he stopped momentarily to watch Vijay Singh tee off at the first hole.

“The only difference between him and me are three zeros,” noted Jones with a smile. “I’m No. 1,000 (in the Official World Golf Ranking), and he’s No. 1.”

Jones had just finished his second round of golf on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut at the Wachovia Championship in May 2003. It wasn’t too long ago he was one of those star players everybody else talked about, dominating tournaments – he won the 1997 Phoenix Open by 11 shots – and even collecting a major along the way, capturing the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills.

These days, the 46-year-old Jones feels fortunate to be playing again on Tour.

Jones returned following a 19-month hiatus that included 2003 surgery on his right elbow (which previously had been diagnosed as tennis elbow) and lingering pain in his other elbow. The pain in Jones’ left elbow was traced to a pinched nerve in his neck, and nearly ended his career.

“It was so bad I couldn’t lift up a pencil,” Jones said.

Jones missed the entire 2004 season. His lone connection to golf was serving as captain Hal Sutton’s assistant on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. That didn’t turn out so well, either, at least on the scoreboard, as the United States was dominated by Europe.

Jones, an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour, made the cut in his return at the Sony, eventually tying for 56th, earning $10,608. It marked his first official paycheck since he tied for 47th at the MCI Heritage in April 2003.

“Probably better than I thought,” Jones said of his performance, “but a long ways to go. Physically, I’m just not there. Creaky in my right elbow the last two days, and physically just drained.”

Jones has moved back to Scottsdale, Ariz., after residing in Montana and said he is working on getting his health and game back together. Because of a slow recovery process, Jones’ practice time has been limited. He had hoped to practice and play more coming into a new season, but was limited to hitting balls just twice a week because of his elbow. That was until last week, that is, when he pushed the envelope and practiced for five days – the most since his elbows started giving him problems in 2003.

Because of the nature of his ailments, Jones never knows if he is pushing his surgically repaired elbow too hard. Usually, the pain doesn’t manifest itself until the following day, so each day proves an unknown adventure. Jones is no stranger to trying to play his way through injury, however. He missed time on Tour with a shoulder injury and an irregular heartbeat in 1999, when he was limited to 19 starts.

Still playing off his 10-year exemption that he earned for winning the U.S. Open, Jones currently has no endorsement deals. At the Sony, he sported a University of Colorado bag that his college coach, Mark Simpson, sent him. And Jones still is playing the same clubs he used in 2003. He proved they still work. His final-round, 3-under 67 at the Sony marked his lowest score on Tour since he shot a fourth-round 66 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 2003.

“Hopefully this week will kind of give me some confidence,” Jones said.

He made it through his first week back unscathed. If nothing else, that was a good start.









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