Jones Leads the Pack at The Players

By Sports NetworkMarch 24, 2005, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- With all of the talk about golf's 'Big Four' and the race for No. 1 in the world ranking, it was an unlikely candidate who claimed the top spot on the leaderboard at the Players Championship Thursday.
Steve Jones, the 1996 U.S. Open champion, who is currently ranked 743rd in the world, fired an 8-under-par 64 to take a one-shot lead at the TPC at Sawgrass.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods could only manage a 2-under 70 on a muddy day at the TPC at Sawgrass.
Fred Funk, Zach Johnson and Lee Westwood are tied for second place at 7- under-par 65.
The Big Four posted mixed results on Thursday.
Vijay Singh, the No. 1 player in the world, carded a 5-under 67 and is part of a group tied for eighth place.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, ranked second and fourth, respectively, each posted rounds of 2-under-par 70. They are part of a logjam tied for 30th place.
Sawgrass took in a lot of water with storms this week and Woods suffered several times with mud on his ball. He was 2 under on the front nine, but recorded two bogeys and two birdies on his second nine, the front side at Sawgrass. Woods closed with an 8-foot birdie putt at his last.
'I missed some short birdie putts I probably should have made, and I just tried to get by with some mud balls out there,' said Woods, who won this title in 2001.
Mickelson had a much more erratic round. He birdied four of his first six holes, then dropped two shots with a double bogey at the par-3 eighth. Mickelson collected two more birdies at 11 and 12, but finished with three bogeys and one birdie in his last four holes, including an ugly drive at 18 that found the water.
'If you had given me 2 under I would have taken it gladly at the start of the round because I knew I was susceptible to a couple of squirrely shots,' said the reigning Masters champion.
Ernie Els, No. 3 in the world, mixed three birdies and two bogeys for his round of 1-under 71. He is tied for 51st.
These superstars are looking up at one of the most unlikely leaders possible.
Jones opened on the back nine Thursday and parred his first six holes. He tapped in a short birdie putt at the par-5 16th, then made it two in a row at the 17th. Jones hit a poor 7-iron into the 18th green, but drained the 60-footer to keep the birdie streak going.
Jones, who served as one of Hal Sutton's assistant captains at last year's Ryder Cup, two-putted for birdie at the second. He hit a 7-iron to 12 feet to set up birdie at the third, but caught an unlucky break at four. Jones' drive landed in a sand-filled divot, but he choked down on a pitching wedge from 90 yards out and stopped it a foot from the hole.
'That was a big turning point, because that could have been an easy bogey or double from that lie,' admitted Jones.
The 46-year-old tallied his fourth consecutive birdie at the fifth. Jones' 20- footer found the bottom of the cup after allowing for 12 feet of break. He missed an 8-foot birdie try at the sixth, but the former U.S. Open champion had one left in him.
At the ninth, Jones knocked a 9-iron to 10 feet and converted the putt for his two-shot lead.
'I was just really patient today and I knew a couple under would be a good score,' said Jones. 'I didn't pressure it much. I felt pretty good coming into this week.'
Jones hasn't felt good in some time. He missed all of the 2004 season with an injury to his elbow where the tendon was off the bone. Jones tried rehab, but eventually needed surgery.
At 46 and coming off a serious injury like his, Jones had some deciding to do about how serious he was about rejoining the PGA Tour. His last top-10 finish was at the rain-shortened BellSouth Classic in 2000, when he tied for fifth.
Jones regained some of his desire assisting Sutton at Oakland Hills, but a talk with Champions Tour star and fellow University of Colorado alumnus, Hale Irwin, got Jones back on track.
'The main thing he wanted me to do is to be positive, don't be a complainer,' said Jones. 'You have to ask yourself, do you really want to do this anymore. And I told him I do. And then we went into some other stuff, and that's just for him and I.'
Funk and Johnson played together on Thursday and combined for 15 birdies and one bogey. Johnson dropped a shot at the 15th, while Westwood was flawless in the first round.
European Ryder Cup partners Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia shot matching rounds of 6-under 66 and were joined by J.L. Lewis in a tie for fifth place.
Padraig Harrington, who has been the runner-up the last two years, posted a 67 to join Singh, Brett Quigley, Bob Estes and Bob Tway in a share of eighth place.
Defending champion Adam Scott opened with a 3-under 69 and is tied for 20th place.
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - The Players Championship
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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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    Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

    Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

    At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

    Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

    Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

    “Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

    In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

    “I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

    Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.