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Jones Putts His Way to T of C Victory : He Holds Off All Comers With a Final-Round 69

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Steve Jones’ wife, Bonnie, read in a newspaper that her husband expected someone to start quickly in the final round of the MONY Tournament of Champions at La Costa.

She had a suggestion for Steve: “Why don’t you jump out?”

Jones didn’t exactly get a blazing start. But he stayed ahead of the field just as he had from the second round.

As a result, the 30-year-old pro from Phoenix beat a championship field Sunday. He shot a final-round 69 for a total of 279, 9 under par, winning by 3 strokes over David Frost and Jay Haas.

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The unassuming Jones, who didn’t appear outwardly confident the past few days, putted superbly to win the first prize of $135,000.

“I’ve always been a pretty good putter, but this is probably my best under pressure putting round,” Jones said. “My putter saved me. I figure I had eight 1-foot putts today.”

Jones had lost confidence with his driver, so he used it only four times Sunday, relying more on his 3-wood.

It was only the second tour victory for Jones, a former all-state high school basketball player from Yuma, Colo. He qualified for the Tournament of Champions by winning the AT&T; Pebble Beach Pro-Am last year, beating Bob Tway in a playoff.

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Although Frost, Lanny Wadkins and Greg Norman made a run from time to time, Jones never relinquished the lead. He had a 2-stroke lead over Wadkins and Ben Crenshaw going into the final round and improved on it.

Frost, a South African now living in Dallas, had a 32 on the front side, and was 36 on the back 9 for a 68. Haas, who had a consistent tournament, also had a 68.

Norman had a final-round 68 and finished at 283. Chip Beck, with a 71, was in fifth place at 284. Three players--Wadkins, Jeff Sluman and Morris Hatalsky, were tied at 285. Crenshaw, who had a 70 Saturday, faltered to a 75 Sunday.

Jones had 6 birdies, getting his last one on the difficult 569-yard, par-5 17th hole. He made his approach with a 6-iron and then made a 25-foot putt.

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“That putt took a lot of pressure off me going into the last hole,” Jones said.

He had a 36 on the back 9 after a 33 on the front side.

Jones said he benefited from watching the putting stroke of Crenshaw, his playing partner.

“I like to watch his stroke,” Jones said. “He takes it back so smoothly.”

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Jones, 6 feet 4 inches, 185 pounds, said he looked at the leader board more than normal.

That’s understandable considering he was playing in such a select field, many of whom have qualified for this tournament over the years.

Jones said previously that he was surprised that he was leading, providing speculation that he was hardly overconfident.

Asked if he was still surprised, Jones said: “Yes. You want to win, but you don’t win very often out here (the tour). So, you take it with a grain of salt.

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“To say that you’re going to win this week is hard to do with the caliber of players here. I feel I don’t have the swing, or technique of lot of guys out here. But I think I can persevere through the hard times.”

Jones said he got an inspirational lift from Mark Simpson, his former University of Colorado golf coach, who showed up at the 15th hole to provide some support.

Jones qualified to play on the tour in 1982. However, because of an injury he didn’t make much of a showing. And he didn’t qualify again until 1985.

By winning the Tournament of Champions, he became the third straight first-year qualifier to win here. Steve Pate won in 1988 and Mac O’Grady in 1987.

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The victory ensures him of being invited to the Masters in April. He said the Augusta, Ga., course suits his game.

Earlier, when Haas was asked if he was surprised that Jones was able to beat such an elite field, he said: “He proved he could win, or he wouldn’t be here. He played like a champion because people were making a run at him.”

Frost, who was 4 strokes behind Jones at the start of the round, said he thought he needed a 65 to win.

He birdied two of the first five holes on the back side to pressure Jones, trailing at one time by 1 stroke.

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However, he parred the next 3 holes and then had a bogey on No. 18 to relinquish his role as a challenger to Jones.

Frost said he hasn’t played much lately, but was rewarded for inactivity with a check of $67,000, matching Haas’ payoff.

After Saturday’s mid-afternoon rain shower and the wind and cold that has made a tough, 7,022-yard course even more difficult, it was sunny and comfortable Sunday.

There was however, frost (not the golfer), on the ground, causing an 18-minute delay to the start of the final round.

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