Jones nagged by self-doubt

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Twice in the 1990s, he won the Canadian Open. In 1996, he reached golf's pinnacle by winning the United States Open. These days, Steve Jones reflects back on those heady triumphs and wonders what happened to that person.

"That's exactly how you feel," said Jones, after firing a round of eight-under-par 64, one stroke off The Stadium Course record, to take a one shot first-round lead in The Players Championship.

"I'm asking myself: 'Who was that guy? Can I ever win again?' "

These are legitimate questions for Jones to pose to himself, seven years removed from his most recent win. He is just now getting back into competitive form after a full two-year layoff to allow a tendon in his left elbow to mend. At 46, it is a huge commitment of time and spirit to try to come out of mothballs and play at a high level on the PGA Tour.

Against the best field that will appear on any golf course this year, anywhere in the world, Jones is one shot clear of Fred Funk, Zach Johnson and Lee Westwood, two ahead of Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and J.L. Lewis and three ahead of Padraig Harrington, the ever-present Vijay Singh and Americans Brett Quigley, Bob Estes and Bob Tway.

Of the so-called Big Four -- Singh, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson -- none but Singh really lit up The Stadium Course. Singh is at five under; Woods and Mickelson are at two under while Els sits at one under.

Stephen Ames is the low Canadian at one under, while Mike Weir struggled to a round of 74.

Jones previously won on the PGA Tour at the Quad Cities Open in 1999.

Since then, he has endured a variety of health issues, including an irregular heartbeat, a shoulder injury and, more recently, the elbow problem that made golf almost impossible from the middle of 2002 until this past January.

Even now, back in harness for three months, he is still only up to "about 50% of my practice capability, maybe even less than that."

"Needless to say, I'm surprised to shoot my best round of the year," he said. "I did have that feeling that something good was going to happen soon. I don't know what's going to happen the next three days but I felt like I had a good one in me."

Ames, playing in a threesome that included Woods, had a mercurial round that included an eagle, three birdies and four bogeys.

"When I missed the green, I couldn't get it up and down," he said.

"But when I did hit the green, I had good chances to make birdies. I was happy with it, though I didn't feel comfortable with my golf swing.

"This is a setup somewhat like Bay Hill last week where you have to hit the ball down the middle, hit it on the green and that's right up my alley."

Weir sits in 122nd place and will need to post a low number today to make the cut.

"I'm just not hitting it close enough to the hole consistently enough to get any momentum going," Weir said. "What surprised me was I didn't feel comfortable today. I did some great work this week and I was feeling a lot of confidence in my swing but it wasn't there (yesterday)."


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