Though I doubt Steve Jones will be around this weekend, he's put himself in a pretty good spot to prove me wrong. The man who won the 1996 U.S. Open (and hasn't been heard from since) escaped the mudballs, made some fine putts, and shot a blistering 64 at the TPC at Sawgrass. He leads The Players Championship over Fred Funk, Zach Johnson, and Lee Westwood, all of whom shot 65s, and a cast of others a few strokes back.
Of the big four - Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, and Phil Mickelson - only Vijay managed a great showing, carding a 67 that puts him in a tie for eighth at -5. Ernie struggled to a 1-under 71 (T51), while Phil and Tiger both carded 70s, putting them six back and tied for 29th. Phil and Tiger's rounds couldn't have been too different: Tiger plodded along, making pars, and tallied two bogeys and four birdies. Mickelson carded seven birdies, a double-bogey on the par-3 eighth, and three bogeys, including a splashed 3-wood from the 18th tee.
Mickelson's double-bogey at the eighth came after he blocked his tee shot left on the tricky par three. His second shot advanced the ball only a few yards from beneath the trees, and he failed to get up and down from there. His tee shot on the last hole started down the middle of the fairway, but sliced (and no, it didn't "fade" - it sliced) 25 yards wide of the fairway to a watery grave. Mickelson said he had "so many chances to turn it into a great round and didn't, that's what's disappointing."
It didn't help that Phil missed short putts throughout the day. Tiger Woods did as well, missing several inside ten feet. "That's something you can't afford to do," Tiger mused after the round. Tiger also mentioned several "mudballs" and the "heaters" they could cause. The course - the (in)famous TPC at Sawgrass - saw a healthy dose of rain earlier this week. At only 7,000 yards, the course isn't long, but it played long today as drives got little to no roll. "It's just not what we're used to seeing on this golf course," said Woods.
Steve Jones didn't seem to mind. Jones started with six straight pars before making seven birdies in a span of eight holes - including the 17th and 18th - to climb right up the leaderboard. He finished with a 10-footer for birdie on the par-5 ninth, his last hole of the day. His 64 is his best score in 17 rounds this year.
Padraig Harrington, a favorite to start winning big tournaments, sits comfortably at -5 and played a solid round. His ill father urged him to play this week, and Harrington has already said he may miss the Masters depending on his father's health. Sergio Garcia, despite dunking a ball at the par-5 16th and bogeying, is tied for fifth at -6 along with J.L. Lewis, who's played well early on in tournaments this year, and Luke Donald, the dapper young Brit.
Pos Player Tot R1 R2 R3 R4 Tot 1 Steve Jones -8 64 - - - 64 T2 Fred Funk -7 65 - - - 65 T2 Zach Johnson -7 65 - - - 65 T2 Lee Westwood -7 65 - - - 65 T5 Luke Donald -6 66 - - - 66 T5 Sergio Garcia -6 66 - - - 66 T5 J.L. Lewis -6 66 - - - 66 T8 Brett Quigley -5 67 - - - 67 T8 Padraig Harrington -5 67 - - - 67 T8 Bob Estes -5 67 - - - 67 T8 Vijay Singh -5 67 - - - 67 T8 Bob Tway -5 67 - - - 67
Coverage continues tomorrow on ESPN from noon to 6pm. That's six full hours of golf, folks. Steve jones tees off at 12:40. Ernie Els tees off at 7:30 with Singh ten minutes behind him. Tiger and Phil tee off at 12:30 and 12:50, respectively.
Photo Credit: © Allsport.