Jones, Gustafson jump ahead in South Carolina

Updated: May 8, 2003, 8:30 PM ET
Associated Press

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Who says American women can't play this game?

Rosie Jones shot a 6-under 66 Thursday, heading an Asahi Ryokuken International leaderboard full of U.S. players trying to break their country's nine-month winning drought on the LPGA Tour. Jones was tied for the first-round lead with Sophie Gustafson of Sweden.

The last time an American walked off with a tour trophy was Meg Mallon at the Canadian Women's Open last Aug. 18, a stretch of 17 events, the longest in LPGA history.

So where are the Americans? At Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club, all you had to do was look out front.

Pat Hurst was third with a 67. Laura Diaz and Wendy Ward were tied with young Mexican star Lorena Ochoa and Italy's Giulia Sergas at 68.

Dorothy Delasin, Beth Bader, Moira Dunn and qualifier Nicole Dalkas -- playing her first event of the year -- were in a group another stroke behind.

In all, 17 of the top 26 players in the opening round were Americans.

''I haven't been winding down,'' said Jones, 43. ''I'm just getting ready.''

Se Ri Pak and Grace Park, two Korean stars second and third on the LPGA money list, were tied at 73. Money leader Annika Sorenstam is playing in Japan this week before taking on the guys at the PGA Tour's Colonial tournament May 22-25.

Diaz, a native of upstate New York with two victories last year, shook her head when asked about the streak.

''I don't see it as being an issue in any other sport: our tennis players, our hockey players, our baseball players,'' Diaz said. ''I think that we're very strong as a country out here.''

Still, she knows it won't go away for good until an American wins.

''We're all playing the best golf that we can,'' Diaz said. ''It's just a matter of time before an American takes home the trophy.''

For the longest while, that leader looked to be Hurst. She had five straight birdies at one point and was 7 under playing her final hole, the par-5 ninth. But a downhill 12-footer for birdie slid by the right side of the cup and rolled about 30 feet past, with Hurst shouting ''Stop'' a couple of times.

Hurst's par putt was 5 feet short, then she missed that one to take a double-bogey 7 and give up the lead.

Hurst said she didn't want to comment on the difficult pin position.

''If you were standing out there, we don't have to talk about it because you could see how bad it was,'' she said.

Jones, who's won 12 times on tour but not since 2001, tied her lowest score of the year with a round that included an eagle, seven birdies and three bogeys.

She was tied with Hurst at 7 under with two holes remaining. But Jones missed a 3-foot par putt on her next-to-last hole, the 8th. She also had a 66 at the season-opening Welch's/Fry's Championships two months ago.

And Jones was fired up about her chances here.

''It sets up really well for me,'' she said. ''Even though it's playing really long, I feel like I have the game to hit the shots.''

Gustafson was the lone foreigner among the top three. Grouped with Jones, Gustafson moved into the lead with birdies on three of her last four holes, including a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 9. She said it normally helps ''when you are playing with someone who's playing good'' like Jones.

The craziest ride of the day had to be Delasin's. She had two eagles, a double bogey and a 40-foot par save on the 18th hole to finish at 69.

''I've usually been playing really consistent,'' she said. ''I just hope I can keep it all together.''

Candidate for the most worn-out player at Mount Vintage? Cathy Johnston-Forbes, who braved the hilly course on a 90-degree day while nearly seven months pregnant. She and husband Foster are expecting their second child in July. ... Nancy Scranton had a hole-in-one on the 157-yard 3rd hole. She used a 7-iron. ... Jackie Gallagher-Smith eagled the par-4 14th hole, dropping a 9-iron 109 yards into the cup on her approach.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press