France’s Espana overcame strong winds which sent scores soaring in the afternoon to card a second round of 69 and finish seven under par at El Prat, one shot ahead of Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez.
Jimenez had been four under after following birdies on the second and fifth with his ninth European Tour ace – equalling the record of Colin Montgomerie – on the eighth, but came home in 39 to card a 71 and finish one under. The 51-year-old, who is known for his love of cigars and red wine, at least had the consolation of winning 288 bottles of beer for his hole-in-one, which came when his six-iron pitched around 15 feet short of the pin and rolled perfectly into the hole.
Espana, 25, who graduated from the Challenge Tour last season, told European Tour Radio: “Leading the open with my name everywhere is very cool.
“I played really good today. It was very windy so it was tough to control distance and the putting was tough too, but I played very well and I am really happy. My family is from Spain so that’s why my name is Espana. My cousins are here this week so it’s really good.
“It’s completely different (on the European Tour), the level of tournaments are higher so I have to improve my game, my level, to play good on tour and I try but it’s difficult so we will see at the end of the week if I keep going.
“It’s tough because there are a lot of good players, the courses are really good and difficult so you have to play well and focus on your game.”
The strong afternoon winds meant pre-tournament favourite Sergio Garcia avoided a first missed cut in 11 appearances in the event, the world No 7 having added a second round of 72 to his opening 75.
“I didn’t feel I played that badly,” said Garcia, who was a shot outside the projected cut after finishing his round with two birdies in the last six holes and a par save from a greenside bunker on the last.
“It was a great week last week with everything that happened (losing a play-off in the Players Championship). It takes it out of you, but it’s no excuse. You just try your best and hope it’s good enough.”
After discovering he had survived with a shot to spare, the 35-year-old later wrote on Twitter: “2 tough days to start the #OpendeEspana but at least I’ll have the opportunity to play the weekend and have a chance! Will need great golf!”
Gonzalez had set the early clubhouse target on six under par thanks to a second consecutive 69, the 45-year-old bouncing back from a double bogey on the 17th with a birdie on the last. “I hit a bad tee shot on 17 and then I tried to hit the green, which was a big mistake,” Gonzalez said. “I made a good six and then I said to my caddie: ‘I need to make a good birdie on 18’. I played two great shots to the green and that gives me a lot of confidence for tomorrow.”
Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey was two shots off the lead after adding a 68 to his opening 71, with Darren Fichardt also five under after a disappointing 73.
Fichardt carded a superb 66 in the tougher afternoon conditions on Thursday and moved into a two-shot lead with a hat-trick of birdies from the fifth, but dropped four shots in the space of six holes from the tenth to come home in 40.
Overnight leader and fellow South African Trevor Fisher fared even worse, carding a 78 to drop back to one under.