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Jones Leads the Fab Four

Associated Press
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page D12

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods had trouble keeping up with the Joneses -- or at least Steve Jones's 8-under-par 64 -- halfway through the opening round of the Players Championship yesterday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Mickelson and Woods, who along with Vijay Singh and Ernie Els form the so-called Fab Four of the PGA Tour, finished with 70s, six shots behind a revived Jones at the Tournament Players Club's Stadium Course.

Phil Mickelson blasts out of the bunker on the ninth hole at the Players Championship. Mickelson and Tiger Woods shoot 70 and trail 1996 U.S. Open champion Steve Jones by six strokes in the event. (Charles W. Luzier - Reuters)

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Early on, Mickelson and Woods both looked ready to go very low in a field that included the world's top 50 golfers. Woods had birdies on two of his opening three holes while Mickelson was 4 under through six holes. But things got away from each of them after that.

Mickelson took a double-bogey 5 on the par-3 eighth hole, then had three bogeys on his final four holes.

"Because I had so many chances to turn this into a great round and I didn't, that's what's disappointing," Mickelson said.

Mickelson hadn't played since his riveting final-round duel with Woods at Doral three weeks ago, and the rust showed. He missed a six-footer for par on the island green at No. 7, then dumped a 4-wood into the water on the final hole for another bogey.

Woods also had trouble following his quick start. He said he missed several putts of 10 feet or less.

"That's something you can't afford to do," he said.

Part of the problem for Woods was fairways made moist by rain earlier this week. It was difficult, he said, to be accurate with mud on your ball.

"It's just not what we're used to seeing on this golf course," he said.

Nothing seemed to bother Jones, the 1996 U.S. Open champion. He moved to the top with a stretch of seven birdies over eight holes to take the lead. He finished with a flourish, rolling in a 10-footer for birdie on his last hole, the ninth, for a 64, his best score in 17 rounds this year.

Jones said he talked with Champions Tour star Hale Irwin about how to kick-start his comeback. Irwin asked the 46-year-old Jones if he even wanted to play well on tour anymore.

"And I said, 'Yeah, I do,' " Jones said. "That's what I tried to focus on, the things he told me."

LPGA TOUR: Annika Sorenstam didn't surprise anyone when she got to 3 under after only four holes of the Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The only surprise was she wasn't on top of the leader board when the last putts rolled in.

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