Seven months after breaking his leg skiing in the Sierra Nevada mountains near his home in Malaga, Miguel Angel Jimenez’s chances of becoming the oldest ever major winner are intact.
The 49-year-old Spaniard, as cool as could be, shot a level par 71 for three-under in the early evening when conditions at Muirfield were scary, the greens so fiery that had Jimenez lit a match for one of his broomhandle cigars he might have had a wildfire on his hands.
It’s too early – way too early – but already the name of Seve Ballesteros has been mentioned, Seve being the last Spaniard to have won the Open all of 25 years ago. Only a fool would predict a winner at this point, the one certainty being that the course is going to get harder. Brandt Snedeker, the amiable American followed his first round 68 with a second round 79 and said that the grind factor required to survive on this golf course is “beyond anything I’ve ever played in”.
So many spoke in a similar vein. There was a military theme to some of the chat from those who played in the afternoon when the some of the greens had the feel of an airport runway and when brakes were almost required to stop the ball on the putting surface. Jimenez, meanwhile, was a small pocket of serenity amid all this talk of battles and fights and carnage.
Some of the conversation afterwards was of his age and the place in history he is chasing. “Why? I have not the right?” he smiled when asked how a 49-year-old could be leading the Open. “Only the young people can do it?” Jimenez is striking a blow for the old guard. What Mark O’Meara started on Thursday, the Spaniard continued yesterday.
“I’ve been 25 years on tour,” said Jimenez. “I’ve had 19 victories and I would like to have a major in my career. Why not this one? I would love it. It’s amazing, you know.”
He was never mentioned in the preamble, but Jimenez has very solid form in the Open in recent years, finishing ninth last year at Lytham, 13th at Turnberry in 2009 and 12th at Carnoustie in 2007. In five of the last six Opens he has been no lower than 27th. He missed the cut at Castle Stuart last week, but has found his best stuff here, his 68 on Thursday giving him the momentum which he maintained yesterday.
“I feel relaxed and I tell you, I love what I’m doing,” he said in his deadpan way.
“I play golf. I do this for a living. I’ve been doing it for 25 years and sometimes you say maybe it’s too many years but you’re wrong. It’s the only thing I like to do in my life. I keep elastic and flexible. I’m still training and walking and still able to shoot low here. If I cannot shoot low then I will not be here (he would retire). I wouldn’t waste my time moving around the world kicking my ass.”
It is Jimenez who is doing the kicking this week. He had two birdies and two bogeys in his second round and played with a cool head all the way through, recovering well when he had to, plotting his way around like a master tactician.
He spoke about pressure and conceded that through that laid-back exterior his heart is beating fast out there. “Anything that is important to you is going to make you feel pressure. And golf is very important and a major is more than important. Being on top of this major field is a lot of pressure and that’s what I like to feel on the golf course. You want to make pars, you want to make birdies. You need to feel that pressure, to feel intense, to feel competitive. If there’s no pressure, you don’t care.
“But it’s fun. Fun does not mean that you have the biggest smile on your face and you are laughing all day. Fun is when you enjoy what you are doing. Sometimes you see me serious because of a situation, but having fun is doing what you like to do in your life.”
He broke his leg in December and made his comeback in the Open de Espana in April, shot 76, 74 and missed the cut. If you said then that his leg would heal so quickly and his game would recover so completely that he would be the halfway leader in the Open championship then you’d have been laughed out of town.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen on Sunday afternoon,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen on Saturday. I’m going to go and hit some balls now. I’m going to have a nice cigar. And when tomorrow comes I will deal with that thing.”
He said he wasn’t going to do anything different just because he’s leading the Open. “Now I have to go to bed at 10 o’clock? Bullshit. I go when I feel like it. After I smoke my cigar.”