2005: PGA Tour - Jones surprises, waits, falls
In the first round of The Players Championship, a rusty Steve Jones played like the man who won the 1996 U.S. Open, shooting 8-under 64. The player ranked No. 743 in the world was such a surprise after missing 19 months because of elbow problems that fellow professional Fred Funk playfully exclaimed, “Steve Jones? Where did he come from?”
But whatever momentum Jones gained was washed away by a couple of days of rain delays. Jones had to wait nearly 51 hours from the time he finished Round 1 until he teed off in the second round Saturday afternoon. He was 10 under and tied for the lead after nine holes of his second round Sunday morning, but a back-nine 43 dropped him out of contention just as abruptly as he had arrived.
“I felt so good Friday (no golf) and Saturday (nine holes),” Jones said. “You try to hang on to that good feeling and good swing and you’re waiting and waiting.”
Jones’ downward spiral began when he made consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 11-12, followed by bogeys at Nos. 14, 17 and 18. He doubled the par-5 11th from the fairway, finding bunkers on his next two shots and taking three putts. At No. 12, he drove into the right rough, hit a poor 9-iron, left his third short and failed to get up and down.
“I had two bad lies in bunkers and it just kind of snowballed for two holes,” he said. “This course can turn around on you so quickly. If I hit a better 4-iron on 11 and a good 9-iron on 12, I make pars or birdies on both of them.”
Jones is happy just to be playing again in his latest comeback. He missed the 1992, ’93 and ’94 seasons after getting in a dirt bike accident and suffering ligament and joint damage in his left ring finger. He did not play the Tour from May 2003 to this January because of a right elbow problem. He suffered the tendon injury in 2002 and had reattachment surgery in August 2003 after a doctor discovered the tendon was off the bone.
While sidelined, Jones dabbled in real estate development in Montana and bought a painting company that he recently sold. Last spring, he actually painted some houses. Since returning, his best finish in five starts before The Players was a tie for 36th at the FBR Open. But he was buoyed by a conversation with Hale Irwin at a recent pro-am. Among other things, Irwin told him not to be a complainer.
“What’s funny is, I feel like I’m hitting the ball better than I ever have in my career,” said Jones, whose 10-year Open exemption expires at the end of 2006.