PEBBLE BEACH — Can a former All-State basketball player turned golfer who has never won in five years as a professional drive the middle of the fairway, slam dunk a couple of putts and stay ahead of his nearest challengers, both former Masters champions?
Will Steve Jones go ahead and win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am today and sack $126,000, or is he going to commit some kind of blunder such as the one that cost him the Heritage last year, his only other chance at winning a tournament?
"I don't think it's going to be easy for him," said Bernhard Langer. "There are 18 holes to play, and a lot of things can happen. If he's off his game, he can go quite high."
So far, Jones' scores are quite low. He shot a two-under par 70 Saturday at Spyglass Hill for a 54-hole total of 206, which means he takes a three-stroke lead over Langer and Craig Stadler into the final round at Pebble Beach.
Langer's 70 and Stadler's 71 at Cypress Point put them within striking distance of Jones, who in the past hasn't done very well when pressed.
"I've led before and blown it," Jones said.
That's what happened last year at the Heritage when Jones held a one-stroke lead on the 18th tee on the last day of the tournament. The wind changed and Jones got flustered. He then chose the wrong club, hitting a driver instead of a 3-wood, and knocked the ball out of bounds.
Jones finished with a double bogey-6 and lost by a stroke to Davis Love.
"I made a mistake," he said.
Jones can't afford to make many more today, Stadler said.
"Three shots is nothing to make up on this golf course," Stadler said. "You need to make a lot of birdies on the first seven holes. If you don't, it's a tough golf course to catch up on."
While second-round co-leader Mark Calcavecchia faded into a three-way tie at 211 with his 75 Saturday at Pebble Beach, Jones began his round like he was starting a fast break.
He birdied four of the first five holes. "But from that point on, I kind of struggled with my game," Jones said.
"I hit the ball pretty well, and there were a few moments when I could have lost it on bogey putts, but I didn't."
Jones finished with two more birdies, but he also had four bogeys. His first bogey came after he drove into the left rough on his seventh hole, No. 16, and missed the green. On 18, Jones three-putted from 35 feet. He also two-putted from 10 feet on No. 5 and two-putted from 30 feet when he missed the fairway left on No. 8.
Missed opportunities do not bother him any longer, Jones said.
"I think I've learned you can't take anything for granted."
Paul Purtzer, the older brother of Tom Purtzer, tutors Jones in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Purtzer is director of golf at Gainey Ranch Golf Club. Purtzer said Jones is a different player than the one who lost the Heritage.
"He didn't have the maturity to step back, put the club back in the bag and then hit that ball," Purtzer said. "He has tremendous ability. He'll do fine. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see him win and win by quite a lot."
There may not be too many who have a shot at Jones. Calcavecchia, Jim Carter and Dick Mast are five strokes back at 211, which is two shots behind Langer and Stadler.
Langer bogeyed three of the last seven holes on his first nine but picked up three birdies the rest of the way and considered himself lucky.
"They had some cute pin (placements) and bumpy greens," he said.
At last year's tournament, Langer began the final round two shots back of the lead but shot a 71 and finished tied for third, two strokes behind Johnny Miller.
Langer is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour although he hasn't won a PGA event since the 1985 Masters and Heritage. However, Langer has won 28 international tournaments.
He also had a winning score in mind for today.
"It's certainly going to be in the 60s," Langer said. "If he (Jones) shoots even par, we have to shoot 69 or better."
Jones has never broken par at Pebble Beach.
Last week at Phoenix, Jones was tied for second after shooting a first-round 66 and finished tied for 33rd. Being a fast-starting, slow-finishing nonwinner carries no special significance, he said.
"No matter who you are, we all come out here as nonwinners," Jones said. "Tournaments will come and go. You will lose them and win them. I look at things eternally. Some people just put a bigger emphasis on things materially. I want to win just as bad as anyone. If I do, great. If I don't, I'm not going to kill myself."
The last time Jones won a tournament was in 1981, his senior year at the University of Colorado, when he won two straight events.
Jones was also the medalist at the 1986 qualifying school, which he attended to improve his position on the exempt list.
"That was like winning a PGA event," Purtzer said. 'There's probably as much or more pressure in that as a tour event. He's as good a player as any of those guys out there."