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Inspired Jones Claims U.S. Open Title

By Larry Dorman New York Times

Steve Jones doesn’t look like Ben Hogan. He doesn’t play golf like Ben Hogan. But on an overcast and muggy afternoon at the Oakland Hills Country Club on Sunday, Jones won the U.S. Open on the same course that Hogan did, by taking a page out of the Hogan book.

Quite simply, he showed more guts than anyone else in the field. Inspired by a book he read about Hogan and by words of encouragement from his fellow competitor, Tom Lehman, Jones persevered while all those around him wilted.

On a brutal layout under the intense pressure of the final round, he shot 69, his third straight round under par, and - after a three-year layoff from the game, after almost seven years without a victory - he won the biggest prize in U.S. golf.

“It’s incredible,” said Jones, 37, whose total of two-under-par 278 was one stroke better than that of Davis Love III, who bogeyed the last hole for a 69, and the third-round leader, Tom Lehman, who shot 71. “It’s a thrill of a lifetime,” Jones added. “Not in my wildest dreams would I have been able to believe this.”

Who would have? Certainly not Love, who was tied for the lead when he birdied the 15th hole. Love, it seemed, would finally get the elusive first major. With the raucous crowds at Oakland Hills carrying him along, he came to the 17th at three-under par and tied with Jones.

Then it happened. A bad pass with a 6-iron, a bad bounce off the hog’s back on the 17th green, and he had bogeyed the hole. Still very much in the game, he needed only a par to finish at two under and give Jones something to think about. But he bogeyed the 18th, after a perfect drive, a perfect approach and a perfectly dreadful three-putt from 18 feet.

“I’m a little bit closer than I was last year,” said Love, who finished tied for fourth at Shinnecock Hills. “And I’m a lot more disappointed than I was last year.”

There were just two players left with a chance by then, and they were both in the same group. Greg Norman’s early charge had long since dissipated. John Morse, a Michigan native, bogeyed the 16th and the 18th. Frank Nobilo, the New Zealander whose ancestors were Italian pirates, walked the plank. He played the 14th through 16th holes in four-over-par and went from one-under to long gone.

This isn’t as inspiring as Hogan’s return from a near-fatal bus accident to a win in the ‘50 Open or as monumental as his victory here in the ‘51 Open, but it’s on the same green. Jones’ promising career nearly ended in 1991, when he fell off a dirt bike in the Arizona desert and shattered the ring finger of his left hand, the key hand in the grip for a right-hander.

He still uses an unusual reverse overlap grip, but it works just fine. Sunday’s victory almost seemed pre-ordained. First there was the pairing. Jones and Lehman are good friends who both attend the Tour Bible Study on a regular basis. There couldn’t have been a more comfortable pairing for Jones, and right at the outset Lehman calmed Jones down with a quote from the Bible.

“Basically, he told me to be strong and courageous,” Jones said. “I was trying, but I was really, really nervous.”

He was no more nervous than anyone else. There were numerous opportunities for Jones to dry up and blow away like the buds from the cottonwood trees that drifted on the breeze across Oakland Hills. He missed a handful of makeable birdie putts on the front nine and when he stood on the ninth tee he was three strokes behind Lehman and one behind Nobilo.

But never looking at the leader boards, Jones went about his business with purpose. He birdied the 10th. He birdied the 12th, and this was to be the turning point, because Lehman, who had driven the ball perfectly, got a bad break and hit his second driver into the back bunker.

Unable to get up and down for birdie, Lehman had to hit out sideways and then three-putted for bogey on the par-five. “To make bogey on a par-five on the back nine of the U.S. Open,” Lehman said, “is a tough pill to swallow.”

It was the poison pill. Lehman never regained the lead. But he still had a chance. Jones bogeyed the 17th hole for the third time in four rounds, pushing his shot into the high rough to the right of the green and then, after his chip shot rolled down to within 8 feet, missing the putt. The two buddies walked to the 18th tee tied at two under.

Lehman ripped his drive, a bold stroke, right toward the middle of the fairway. But the fairways had dried and become firmer, and the drive kept rolling into the bunker on the left side. His ball was close to the high lip. Dead.

“There was no way to get to the green from there,” Lehman said.

Jones, meanwhile, had ripped his drive right into the middle of the fairway. After Lehman hit his second shot out of the bunker to a layup zone about 100 yards short of the green, Jones got over his 7-iron for the shot of his life.

It was 170 yards to the elevated green. One hundred and seventy yards, up the hill, to the land of the living after seven years of wandering in the desert. Jones nearly holed the shot. It hit the front of the green, bounced once, and hit just to the left of the cup, stopping 12 feet past.

Jones needed two putts after Lehman missed his par putt.

when the putt went in, his hands went up, and his two children, Stacey, 3, and Cy, 5, jumped into his arms.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TOP FINISHERS Final scores at the 96th U.S. Open Golf Championship on the 6,974-yard, par-70 Oakland Hills Country Club’s south course at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Steve Jones 74-66-69-69-278 Tom Lehman 71-72-65-71-279 Davis Love III 71-69-70-69-279 John Morse 68-74-68-70-280 Jim Furyk 72-69-70-70-281 Ernie Els 72-67-72-70-281

This sidebar appeared with the story: TOP FINISHERS Final scores at the 96th U.S. Open Golf Championship on the 6,974-yard, par-70 Oakland Hills Country Club’s south course at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Steve Jones 74-66-69-69-278 Tom Lehman 71-72-65-71-279 Davis Love III 71-69-70-69-279 John Morse 68-74-68-70-280 Jim Furyk 72-69-70-70-281 Ernie Els 72-67-72-70-281

Wordcount: 1040
Tags: golf

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