Golf

British Open leader does it his way

Miguel Angel Jimenez
Miguel Angel Jimenez smokes a cigar on the driving range at Muirfield.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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GULLANE, Scotland

Chomping on a cigar, the ponytailed Miguel Angel Jimenez strolled down the Muirfield range wearing aviator sunglasses, clutching a bottle of his beloved red Rioja wine.

His beautiful blond girlfriend followed.

“Maybe coolest man alive,” Keegan Bradley marveled in a tweet.

And who’d argue?

At 49, Jimenez is endearingly known within golf circles as The World’s Most Interesting Man.

His idiosyncratic — and not exactly balletic — stretching routine is so legendary that Phil Mickelson will go out of his way to watch it.

“He's one of those guys I like to people-watch and just kind of watch him move, you know, see how he rolls,” Mickelson said Friday.

“I'm amused by his warmup routine. I always get a kick out of that. I'll actually arrive early to the course to watch it.

“He's just an entertaining fellow.”

But Jimenez — The Mechanic, they also call him — is not just good dinner company.

The Spaniard’s leading The Open Championship after two days.

Seriously.

A bon vivant who’s almost 50 and has never won a major has a one-shot lead over Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson. He sits at 3 under par on a golf course as difficult as any imaginable, with greens Mickelson called faster than those at Augusta National.

“I have not the right to do it? Only the young people can do it?” Jimenez said with a laugh.

Jimenez doesn’t have the greatest grasp of the English language, but that only serves to make him more endearing.

When he was asked how it felt to be atop the leaderboard with only nine players in red numbers, he smiled as if the question were a tad silly.

“It's much better to feel when you were on the top of the leaderboard than when you were somewhere else on the leaderboard, no?” he said.

“Obviously, it's much nice, no?”

Si, Miguel.

His secret isn’t about swing planes or the position of his elbow on the downswing or any of that. He’s an artist, not an engineer.

He’s about finding happiness.

“That's the secret,” he said.

“Enjoy yourself, what you do in life.

“And I tell you, I love what I'm doing. I play golf. I do this for a living. And I've keep doing the same thing for 25 years.

“Probably sometime you say if I think maybe it’s too many years? But you're wrong. I enjoy myself. I keep elastic and flexible. I'm still training and walking and still able to shoot low and still here. Tomorrow if I cannot shoot low, then I will not be here.

“You don't worry. I wouldn't waste my time moving around the world kicking my ass.”

He has to overcome not only the pressure of the occasion — a pressure he says he welcomes because it makes him feel alive — but tennis elbow and then there’s the morning physiotherapy sessions he reluctantly endures that he needed after breaking his leg skiing before Christmas.

He likes to stretch but — as the pot belly betrays — he draws the line at becoming a gym rat like many modern golfers.

“Lift weights? You see me like a cultural slave, or what?” he joked.

Indeed, Jimenez said he’d change nothing even though he’s leading the 142nd Open.

“You don't need to change anything,” he said. “As soon as I finish here and I leave the golf course, I'm just going to stay with my girlfriend, with my sons, and we're going to have a dinner, like I do every day.

“Don't need to do anything special.

“I'm leading, now I have to go to bed at 10 o'clock? Bull----!”

What time will he go to bed?

“When I feel like it,” he said. “And especially after I smoke my cigar.”

It may be a pipe dream for a man of almost 50 to win a major against these young studs who drive the ball 320 yards and hit towering irons.

And it probably would be anywhere but at this championship.

But this is the links.

This is where Greg Norman and Tom Watson almost won a claret jug in their 50s.

This is where the years are rolled back by the course, by the way golf has to be played — along the ground — which may not totally negate brute strength and athleticism but evens the playing field.

“It's something more,” said Jimenez of what’s needed to win at Muirfield.

“You need to play with the ball. You need to hit hook, slice. That’s the game of golf.

“It's two things, one is playing golf, and one is hitting. There is a lot of players in the world that hit very far and play very well. In this links course you need to take a lot of patience, because they are very fast fairways, very fast greens. You have to think where you have to put the ball, what you have to do with everything, and to keep the ball in play.

“And you need to use a lot of the skill.”

And with that, Jimenez left to find a chair in the sun, outside of the player hospitality suite, where he lit his cigar and poured himself a glass of wine.

Tagged: Phil Mickelson, Miguel Angel Jimenez

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