independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Smyth hails oldest swinger Jimenez

Miguel Angel Jimenez

DES SMYTH rose before dawn to watch Miguel Angel Jimenez take his place in the record books, and he believes the remarkable Spaniard may have even more history to make.

Jimenez succeeded Smyth as the oldest tournament winner on the European Tour with a polished third career victory at the UBS Hong Kong Open, an achievement the Bettystown native described as "simply terrific".

"He's a top-quality player," said the Drogheda man, who believes Jimenez has the ring craft and shot-making skills to continue giving young "power-hitters of today a real run for their money" when precision, rather than length, is at a premium.

"Naturally, the clock is ticking but Miguel clearly still can compete, especially on courses that suit him," said Smyth.

"I think he could even win an Open at this stage. Miguel has that type of game – he's very controlled and straight-hitting."

Might Jimenez even become the first 50-year-old to make the European Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles in 2014?

"That'd be hard but by no means impossible. He'd have to play really well," Smyth replied. "It has been done by a few players on the American side. Raymond Floyd was 51 when he made the US team at the Belfry in 1993, so it's doable."

Jimenez, closing in on his 49th birthday as he sealed the deal in Hong Kong with a faultless 65, beat by 248 days the record held by Smyth since 2001, when he won the Madeira Island Open.

"I'm surprised it stood for so long," said Smyth, who added with a smile, "I didn't think I'd be hanging onto it for 11 years.

"It is a big deal. I remember when I was younger thinking how outrageous it was for Neil Coles to have won on Tour at 48, and it does give you a great sense of satisfaction.

"It's not a target you'd set yourself, but it's a great boost to your confidence to know you can still go out there and beat the talented young guns on Tour."

Smyth is still winning golf tournaments at age 59, his most recent success coming at last month's Travis Perkins Senior Masters in Woburn.

World No 1 Rory McIlroy (23) had been the buzz player at Fanling until he missed Friday's cut, ceding the limelight to a player more than twice his age.

Known universally on Tour as 'The Mechanic' because of the expert way he can work the golf ball, Jimenez gave a masterful display of those skills at Fanling, the shortest and one of the tightest courses on the European Tour in 2012.

He made just two bogeys in four days – on the final two holes of Thursday's opening 65.

One of seven brothers from Malaga, this remarkable character is famous for his ginger locks, which he keeps in a pirate's ponytail, puffing Cuban cigars, quaffing Rioja and having a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

When asked to explain how it has been possible to amass 12 of his 19 career wins in his 40s, he shrugged and said: "Maybe it's the olive oil in my joints and nice Rioja wine. Those things keep you fit and flexible, no?"

Obviously, he keeps himself well 'lubricated' but Jimenez's enduring suppleness is due to intensive daily exercise and stretching routines.

Having come up the hard way, Jimenez retains an enduring affection for golf and an insatiable appetite for success.

"This is most important of all," he said. "I do what I like to do in my life and golf has given me all this pleasure. Next year will be my 25th on Tour. But I still love it and I think it's fantastic to love what you're doing, to keep fit and enjoy yourself."

Jimenez was hardest pressed yesterday by Freddie Andersson-Hed, who got within one stroke of the winner as he and third-placed Marcus Fraser shot sublime 64s.

Sadly, New Zealander Michael Campbell, a US Open winner in 2005, fell back into a tie for eighth with a two-over-par 72.

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