Jones Leads Americans at Asahi Ryokuken

Friday, May 9th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (AP) _ Rosie Jones isn't about to give way to all the teen sensations and 20-somethings.

The 43-year-old Jones shot a 6-under 66 Thursday to share the first-round lead with Sophie Gustafson in the Asahi Ryokuken International. And although Jones hasn't won in almost two years, she's far from given up the game that's earned her 12 tour titles.

``I think it's pretty dang good that we're keeping up with these girls now. They come out young and tough and strong,'' Jones said.

``Hopefully, it's just the experience that has taken us to some good golf. ... I haven't been winding down. I'm just getting ready.''

It certainly lifted Jones to the top at Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club.

She eagled her third hole of the day, the par-5 12th. Following a bogey on No. 13, Jones rolled in consecutive birdies on the 14th and 15th holes. Jones made another move in the middle of her second nine with birdies on the third, fifth, sixth and seventh holes. Only a missed 3-footer for par at her next to last hole, the eighth, slowed her down.

``It sets up really well for me, even though it's playing really long,'' said Jones, who equaled her low round of the year set two months ago in the season-opening Welch's/Fry's Championship.

Pat Hurst was third at 67 after she gave up the lead with a double-bogey 7 on her final hole, the par-5 ninth.

Laura Diaz, Lorena Ochoa, Wendy Ward and Giulia Sergas were next at 68.

Overall, it was a very good start for American women. The last time a U.S. player walked off with a tour trophy was Meg Mallon at the Canadian Women's Open on Aug. 18, a stretch of 17 events, the longest in LPGA history.

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

Se Ri Pak and Grace Park, two South 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 on 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.''

And Hurst looked like the strongest American of all.

She had five straight birdies at one point and was 7 under playing her final hole. 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.

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.''