Friday 19 January 2018

Bjorn and Jimenez show age no barrier to Ryder hopes

Thomas Bjorn
Thomas Bjorn

Karl MacGinty

TALK about the roaring 40s. Thomas Bjorn (42) won the biggest cheque of his life with a superlative 65 in the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City to make a massive down-payment on a place in next September's Ryder Cup.

Earlier at Fanling, Miguel Angel Jimenez rewrote history by winning the Hong Kong Open just four weeks before his 50th birthday and set his sights on becoming the oldest European Ryder Cup player of all time at Gleneagles.

The €159,063 winner's cheque banked by Jimenez after winning a three-man play-off in Hong Kong was dwarfed by the €917,700 earned by Bjorn in South Africa.

Not all of the Dane's first prize yesterday counts either in the Race to Dubai or the chase for Ryder Cup places as only 30 played for Nedbank's millions.

Yet the controversial 795,335 points accrued by Bjorn in this end-of-season 'jolly' lift him into second behind Ian Poulter in the Ryder Cup qualification table.

Jimenez remains nine places away from automatic selection in 13th on the same list.

"If I play the way I am playing this week I will be in the Ryder Cup team," said Jimenez, who tied with Prom Meesawat and Stuart Manley at 12-under thanks to a closing 66.

The Spaniard then coolly rolled in a 20-foot putt for birdie on the first tie hole to clinch his 20th European Tour title – his 13th since turning 40. He succeeded Des Smyth as the European Tour's oldest winner in Hong Kong last year and now has extended that record by nearly 13 months.

Ted Ray, aged 50 years, two months and five days when he was player-captain of the Great Britain and Ireland team at the inaugural Ryder Cup in 1927, is the oldest player from this side of the Atlantic to play in the event.

Yet Jimenez is eldest in the 'European' era since teeing it up at Celtic Manor in 2010 at age 46. The oldest Ryder Cupper of all time is Ray Floyd, 51 years and 20 days old at The Belfry in 1993.

David Higgins, who led after Thursday's sparkling 64, earned €7,455 in a tie for 30th on three-under after closing with 68.

Bjorn's glittering performance at Sun City suggests he can be as successful in his 40s as Jimenez – four of the Dane's 15 European Tour titles have come in his fifth decade.

Sergio Garcia, who also shot 65 yesterday, looked set for his third Nedbank title as he completed the front nine at the Gary Player Country Club in just 30 strokes (six-under). Yet Bjorn overhauled the Spaniard with two spectacular eagles and a birdie on his way home.

Irish Independent

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