Golf: Jones joins list of unlikely champions

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Steve Jones did it by the book. The 37-year-old journeyman said he drew strength and inspiration from reading a book about Ben Hogan prior to his victory in the US Open Championship here on Sunday evening. It is not easy to compare Jones with Hogan although there are similarities.

Hogan won the US Open on four occasions, most memorably on this course in 1951 after he had scored 76 in the opening round. He revived his career after being injured in a car crash. Jones, who was seriously hurt in a dirt bike accident in 1991, had to qualify for this championship and he began with a round of 74.

"The thing I got out of the Hogan book," Jones said, "was that this guy, no matter what the situation, was always trying to make birdie, always trying to focus on the next shot. That's what I tried to do. I don't think I could have won without reading that book. That sounds crazy but I wasn't sure I had the guts to win again. I just kept telling myself what Hogan said: `focus on each shot and don't worry about the outcome.' "

Jones also found support from his playing partner, Tom Lehman. They are neighbours in Phoenix. During the final round Lehman who, by the turn held a two-stroke lead, encouraged Jones. "Be strong and courageous," he said. Lehman was quoting from another book, the Bible. "It was Joshua 1:9," he said. Jones was familiar with it.

It all came down to the 18th, the most difficult hole on a course called the Monster. Four of the top six bogeyed the monstrous 465-yard uphill par four.

Davis Love was the leader in the clubhouse after a 69 for 279, one under par, but he took five at the 18th, three-putting after leaving his first putt two feet short. When Jones and Lehman came to the 18th they were tied for the lead at two under par for the championship. Lehman hit what he thought was an excellent drive but his ball bounced left and rolled into a bunker. He took five. Jones, on the fairway, hit a magnificent seven-iron which nearly struck the flag. It went about 12 feet past and he had two putts for the championship.

Jones, who was off the US Tour for nearly three years because of his accident, shot 69 in the final round to Lehman's 71, and his aggregate of 278 was a stroke better than the score set by Andy North, the winner here in 1985. North won the US Open twice in a career that generally headed south. The Monster has a lot to answer for.

Jones became the fifth consecutive champion to make the US Open his first major, joining Tom Kite, Lee Janzen, Ernie Els and Corey Pavin. The championship is not producing classic winners.

The USGA deliberately makes it the most demanding test in golf but the way they set up the course tends to bring in a lottery effect. The rough is virtually unplayable but good shots, as well as bad, are penalised..

On Sunday, Love was paired with Colin Montgomerie and what the two have in common is that they are the most successful players never to have won a major. When Monty got to one under in the final round he was in the thick of it. He had gone to the turn in 34 but the par-three 13th finished him off. He knew that Love had hit a seven-iron but Monty's flew about 30 yards longer and went through the green. His chip ended up on the front fringe and he took a double-bogey five.

In the final analysis, Montgomerie, the leading European at joint 10th, was ranked first in fairways hit and first in hitting greens in regulation. In the putting statistics he was ranked 87th. "I said before the start that to win this you needed to be accurate and lucky and I got the first bit right," Monty said. "Nobody played better than me... nobody." The fact is, 86 players putted better than Montgomerie.

In the championship, Jones took seven putts less than Monty and beat the Scotsman by five strokes. "Every young boy has dreamed of making a putt on the last hole to win the US Open," Jones said. "Fortunately mine was only a foot long. If it had been an inch longer I don't know where it would have gone."