Saturday 20 January 2018

Miguel Angel Jimenez makes history as first winner over 50 on European Tour

Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain smokes his cigar and poses with the trophy after winning the Open de Espana held at PGA Catalunya Resort on May 18, 2014 in Girona, Spain. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain smokes his cigar and poses with the trophy after winning the Open de Espana held at PGA Catalunya Resort on May 18, 2014 in Girona, Spain. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Nigel Whittaker

LIKE Old Man River, Miguel Angel Jimenez just keeps rolling along.

The magnificent 'Mechanic' became the first 50-year-old to win on the European Tour yesterday as he satisfied a 27-year quest for his Holy Grail, the Spanish Open trophy, with a dramatic overtime victory at PGA de Catalunya.

Jimenez, recently married to girlfriend Susanna Styblo and now the newly crowned national champion of Spain, is intent on making golf history.

Minutes after beating Australian Richard Green (43) and Belgian rookie Thomas Pieters (22) with a par on the first tie hole, Jimenez (right) signalled his intent to become the oldest European ever to play the Ryder Cup next September.

"I'm still knocking at that door," chuckled the Spaniard, whose 21st career win in Europe thrust him past Ian Poulter to 10th on the Ryder Cup points list, just one outside the all-important top nine who'll win places on Paul McGinley's team in Gleneagles.

Anyone who doubts his ability to go one step further over the next three months need only look at the quality and tenacity of the ageless Spaniard's performance on a brutally difficult golf course as he forced his way into sudden death with a fighting 73.

Jimenez, who followed a stunning fourth place at April's Masters by winning on his US Champions Tour debut the following Sunday, still has the game, the stamina and the appetite to contend at the upcoming US and British Open championships.

The course in Girona was set up so tough, just 11 broke par over 72 holes of a gruelling Spanish Open.

Gareth Maybin stood out among them by landing his third hole-in-one on Tour on the par-three fifth hole, courtesy of an exquisite 188-yards 6-iron.

The Ballyclare native (33) forced his way into a share of seventh place on one-under with a nicely crafted closing 71. It's the first top-10 Maybin's managed since back-to-back eighth and fifth place finishes in France and Scotland last July ensured he'd keep his Tour card.

His performance in Spain, which yielded a €34,740 cheque, should help kick-start the Ulsterman's season.

Shane Lowry matched Maybin's final-round 71 and shared 15th place with skipper McGinley (73) on one-over after a morale-boosting performance on only his third taste of the weekend action in 11 tournaments this year.

The Clara man finished strongly, picking up shots on two of his final three holes, including one of only three birdies yesterday at 18.

For the record, Jimenez extended his mark as the oldest winner in European Tour history to 50 years and 133 days, beating the 49 years and 337 days he set at December's Hong Kong Open.

Urged to his 14th win since turning 40 by a large and vociferous home crowd, Jimenez soon overhauled faltering overnight leader Pieters, a Q-School Graduate on this course last November, but then was passed by Green.

The Aussie stumbled to a calamitous triple-bogey seven out of the trees at 14 and, despite a brave birdie at 16, Green still trailed Jimenez by one after signing for his 72. Yet the Spaniard and Pieters, who'd rejoined the lead with a glorious eagle three at 15, both bogeyed the last to make it a three-way tie on four-under.

"I have sought this trophy for 27 years," said Jimenez after clinching victory. "Every win is special in its own way but this one is very important to me."

So what's his secret? "There is no secret," he retorted. "Just good food, good wine and good cigars and a little exercise."

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