Hoping his health problems are history, '96 champion Jones in contention with 69


PINEHURST, N.C. -- He is a former U.S. Open champion whose career has been interrupted a number of times by injuries and illness.

Steve Jones, who won the Open at Oakland Hills in 1996, came out of the dark yesterday at Pinehurst No. 2.

Playing in the Open for the first time since 2002, the year he was sidelined by a career-threatening heart problem, Jones put himself on the leader board and possibly into contention at the 105th U.S. Open by shooting a 1-under-par 69.

"You just try to be ready and, when it's your turn, you try to make the most of it," said Jones, 46. "That's what I'm trying to do."

Off the course, Jones has seen his career also derailed by a number of injuries and accidents. He spent three years off the tour in the early 1990s after suffering ligament and joint damage to his left ring finger in a dirt-bike accident.

After winning the Open, then following it with two victories in 1997 and one in 1998, Jones was found to have superventricular tachycardia. The irregular heartbeat caused him to miss parts of the next three seasons. He had the problem corrected through a laser procedure in August of 2002 but suffered an injury diagnosed as "tennis elbow' that was corrected last August.

"I was concerned if I was ever going to play again," said Jones, who missed the entire 2004 season and served as Hal Sutton's assistant captain on the losing U.S. Ryder Cup team last fall at Oakland Hills.

Poulter haunted?

England's Ian Poulter is known for being one of the PGA Tour's more bizarre characters, from the outlandish outfits he wears to his ever-changing hairstyles and colors. After what happened to him yesterday, he might also believe in ghosts.

Struggling from the start on the back nine, Poulter watched a bogey putt on the par-4 18th hole hit the rim of the cup that was improperly set, pop in the air and drop in. Nearly the same thing happened on the par-5 first hole, but this time, after the ball hit the rim, it came right back toward him.

In the second instance, Poulter took the flagstick and jammed the cup back into the hole several times.

Asked about it later, he said, "I'm choosing my words very, very politely at the minute. There's nothing I can do. They've done the same thing they have done all week. They feel like the hole was an inch down. I'm telling you it wasn't."

Not that either putt would have made much of a difference since Poulter finished with a 77.


Former Open champion Corey Pavin, whose 10-year exemption from his Shinnecock Hills victory runs out after this year, shot a 3-over-par 73. After the round, he flew by private jet to attend his son's high school graduation.

In San Diego.

"It was an easy decision on what I was going to do," said Pavin, who'll return for his 12:37 p.m. tee time today. "I was going to make sure I was at my boy's graduation."

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