Tuesday 12 December 2017

Putter woes can't halt Jimenez run

Karl MacGinty in Bahrain

IN golf he's known as 'the Mechanic' but Miguel Angel Jimenez conjured up such a magical series of putts with his lob wedge yesterday, maybe in future we should call him 'the Wizard'.

The charismatic Spaniard played the final five holes of his second round at the Volvo Tournament of Champions without a putter -- yet still managed to complete a hat-trick of birdies in those closing holes as a superlative 65 gave him a share of the lead on 11-under par.

Darren Clarke, who soared to within one stroke of Jimenez with a sweet 65 of his own, and course designer Colin Montgomerie creased up with laughter when Jimenez, furious after missing the latest in a series of makeable putts, smashed the shaft of the offending club in two by the 13th green.

"It was a wonderful effort," quipped Clarke afterwards as he launched into a graphic description of his 47-year-old playing companion's full-blooded throwing action.

"Miguel's back swing was a little bit long but the release was at the perfect time and the putter just managed to catch the corner of the bag. I have to say, it was beautiful, really funny. He got full marks for technique from the course designer and myself.

"Between the three of us playing together today, we've spent a few years out here and, unfortunately, we've all done it," the Dungannon man chuckled. "If you're playing nicely like Miguel and miss putt after putt, you're going to lose your temper."

Few have endured as much frustration as Clarke on the putting green but he confessed: "Though I've bent a few putters in my time, I don't think I've ever managed to break one.

"I'd have to adapt that technique of the shoulder turn to get a little more energy into it. If that situation arises, I'll remember Miguel's technique."

Not that he'd need to right now as a lesson from Jose Maria Olazabal in Abu Dhabi last weekend has helped put his own putter back in the good books at the Royal Golf Club of Bahrain.

If the act of breaking the golf club was amusing, the large gallery following Jimenez, Clarke and Montgomerie would be enthralled as the Spaniard needed just one putt to hole out with his trusty lob wedge on the next four greens.

Jimenez had taken 23 putts on the first 13 holes with his putter but, incredibly, couldn't miss with the wedge, literally blading his ball into the hole for birdies from 17 feet at 15, followed by a ticklish downhill six-footer at the daunting par-three 16th and from tap-in distance at 17 after he'd hit a wonderful 110-yard sand-iron to inches.

Roars of 'Bravo' and 'Ole' were stirred by that approach shot. With his trademark pony tail, his passion for good Rioja and Havana cigars and an impish smile, Jimenez is one of the great characters of world golf.

Yet at the core of it all is a wonderfully effective swing and rock-solid short game which seems to become ever more refined with age.

Tied for the lead with Sweden's Peter Hanson, Raphael Jacquelin of France and Italy's Edoardo Molinari going into the weekend, Jimenez might easily add to his haul of 18 European Tour victories in Bahrain tomorrow.


Remarkably, 11 of those wins, including three in 2010, have been achieved since he turned 40. So if ever there was an inspiration for Clarke, now 42, as he tries to regain a spot in the upper echelons of the world game, it's this remarkable man from Malaga.

"I feel quite athletic beside him," Clarke joked. "But Miguel is great and has been for a long time. If you've got talent for the game, that never goes away. Your scoring ability might wane but talent doesn't."

Jimenez insisted putting with his lob wedge was no big deal. "I've used it quite a bit in the past," he admitted with a devilish grin, adding: "But I think I'll be taking a putter with me tomorrow. That's what's meant to be in the bag."

Tied fifth with Paul Casey, James Kingston and Scot Stephen Gallacher -- who shot a course record-equalling 64 yesterday -- Clarke nurtures hopes of ending his 30-month victory drought on Tour tomorrow.

Among other things, new Ryder Cup captain Olazabal advised Clarke to take a tighter grip on his putter. "He said it'd take maybe four or five weeks to get used to what he was telling me to try and do, so I'll keep working away on it and, hopefully, get better and better," he said. "But I'm certainly hitting better putts."

Volvo Tournament of Champions,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 10.0

Irish Independent

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