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Many people think that because the ball flies farther and
straighter, and high-tech clubs make it easier to hit, the
highly skilled pros who play on today's exquisitely maintained
Tour courses should put up record numbers. Yet Mike Souchak's
nearly 42-year-old PGA Tour scoring mark of 27 under par for a
72-hole tournament still stands. The hounds have caught the
scent, though, and they're closing in. In fact, the standard,
which Souchak set with a 257 in the 1955 Texas Open, could go
any week now. "That record is on borrowed time," says Nick
Price. "The big-headed drivers and the quality of the greens and
the fact that players are a lot better ... I don't know when
it's going to happen or on which course, but it will."

Steve Jones, the reigning U.S. Open champion, is the latest Tour
pro to have a fender bender with history. While winning last
week's Phoenix Open in a runaway, Jones came up one stroke shy
of tying Souchak's mark, and on a dreary Sunday was within a
you've-gotta-be-kidding lipo for an eagle on the 17th hole and a
nearly holed approach on 18 that would've put him over the top.
As it was, Jones's 26-under 258 provided an 11-stroke victory
over Jesper Parnevik.

Last year John Cook also missed the record by one shot, at
Memphis. Mark Calcavecchia shot 261, 27 under, through 72 holes
of the recent Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, a 90-hole event. And
last week there was Jones, who made his remarkable run despite
hitting barely more than half of the fairways at the TPC at
Scottsdale. Five of the nine scores within four shots of
Souchak's target have come in the last nine years, three in the
last four years. Jones joins Cook and Donnie Hammond, the 1989
Texas Open winner, in the record book as having the
second-lowest total ever.

The weather played a role in Jones's assault, just as it did
when Souchak set the record. One of the most impressive aspects
of Souchak's feat is that the final round of the '55 Texas Open
at Brackenridge Park in San Antonio was played in a
bone-chilling norther, yet he still shot 65. The weather in
Phoenix on Sunday was also wet and windy, and Jones shot 67. "If
it had been nice, Souchak's record would've gone down," said
Rick Fehr, who tied for fourth, 14 shots behind Jones. "It was
definitely two or three shots harder today."

Two things were unusual about Jones's score. First, no one
expected it. The pre-tournament talk was about how this year's
event would probably have higher scores because of the deeper
than usual rough and the firm greens. That was all forgotten,
though, when Jones shot 62 in the opening round, followed with a
64 and tacked on a 65 on Saturday. "It was weird," Fehr said.
"Tuesday, with the deep rough and the crusty greens, I was
thinking, Oh my gosh, nobody's going to go crazy this week. Next
thing you know, somebody did. It shows you how good these
players are. The only way to keep them from doing that is to set
up the course the way the USGA does at the Open. The average
amateur will come out here tomorrow, get a look at this rough
and shake his head in disbelief." Of course, that's what the
other players were doing when they looked up at Jones's scores.
Erase Jones and there were only five players at 12 under or
better, with Parnevik at 15 under, a fairly common winning
number on Tour. "This would've been a great tournament if not
for Steve Jones," joked fellow Phoenix resident and defending
champion Phil Mickelson.

The other strange chapter of the Jones story was that when he
made that final birdie, he thought he had tied the record.
Fulton Allem of South Africa, also playing in the final
threesome, kept pushing Jones. "Fulton encouraged me--'Come on,
let's go. Let's get that record,'" Jones said. "He was really
pulling for me, but he kept telling me that 26 was the number. I
still thought 26 was the record on the last hole. I thought that
putt was to tie. So I'm on the last hole, I've got the
tournament won, and I'm still feeling pressure. It was like,
I've got to make this putt. Where does the pressure stop?"

How much pressure can there be when you've got a 10-shot lead
during most of the final round? Certainly not as much as Jones
experienced last summer when he was winning his only major, at
Oakland Hills outside Detroit. His victory there was surprising
because he had been off the Tour for more than three years in
the early '90s, recovering from a dirt bike accident. Taking
into account the early years of his career (a win at Pebble
Beach in 1988 and three more victories in 1989) as well as the
Open and his consistently good play over the past five months,
you have to admit that Jones has been vastly underrated. Instead
of wondering how someone like him was able to win the Open, we
should consider how good Jones might have been if he had a sound
left hand. (The damage to his ring finger was so severe that he
has been forced to use a reverse-overlap grip--essentially a
putting grip--on all his shots.)

Jones is long--he averaged 280.1 yards off the tee last week,
12th best in the field--and hits the ball straighter than he
used to. He remains one of the best putters on Tour, 17th
overall in 1996. That's a combination that should've drawn raves
eight years ago but somehow went largely unnoticed. "He
definitely would've piled up some numbers if he'd had those
three years," says Paul Azinger. "He is secure in himself and
who he is. His ability to put the last shot behind him is
fantastic. He's a big man, he's got incredibly large shoulders,
and is extremely powerful. He doesn't drive it perfectly
straight, but he's very long, and strong out of the rough. And
he's a brilliant putter. When he goes streaking like this week,
there's no stopping him. He plays the same when he's got the
lead. This week he said he was going to stay aggressive and
increase his lead, and he did."

Jones doesn't look back with regret. If he hadn't been hurt, he
says, maybe he wouldn't have found the determination to come
back, a quality he needed at the Open. "It's the old foxhole
conversion thing," Jones says. "When I had those three years
off, I said that if I ever get back, I'm going to practice
harder, I'm going to rededicate myself and be a better player. I
never thought my career was over, but it could've been. This is
a great win. My goal after the Open was to prove that I could
win again."

Jones, now the Tour's leading money winner in '97 ($346,414)
after the sixth victory of his career, dominated at Phoenix
because of his putting. He needed just 99 putts for the
week--nine fewer than Parnevik and 14 fewer than Price, who came
in third. Jones hit only 49 of 72 greens in regulation, so
imagine how much he might have won by if he had hit the ball
well. "My putting was phenomenal this week," said Jones, who has
used the same Bulls Eye putter for 15 years. "I ought to bronze
that thing when I'm done. On the 2nd hole today, I had a
25-footer for par and said to myself, Let's see if this is my
week or not. I stroked it in and thought, Yeah, it's my week."

The win was reminiscent of last fall's lopsided Tour
Championship, which Tom Lehman won by six strokes. "Jones
reminds me so much of Tom," says Mike Hulbert, who tied for
seventh in Scottsdale. "They both hit hard draws. Steve hits it
a little farther and putts the lights out. He wanted to make
sure that the U.S. Open was not a fluke, that people knew he was
a good player before he got hurt. Now he knows he can beat
anybody's butt. I played with Tiger Woods on Sunday, and even he
said there was no way anybody could catch Steve."

On a week like this, maybe not even Mike Souchak.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK If this eagle putt had dropped on the 71st hole, Jones would've tied Souchak's 42-year-old mark. [Steve Jones putting]