AUGUSTA - Let the Dos Equis actor be The Most Interesting Man in the World for beer drinkers.
Miguel Angel Jimenez prefers to be The Most Interesting Man in the World for Cuban cigar smokers. And for Spanish wines. “They should call me Miguel Angel Rioja!” he likes to joke. And just maybe The Most Interesting Golfer in World on a day when just about everything comes together for him – as appears to be happening at the Masters.
Jimenez is 48 years old. The oldest winner of this storied tournament, Jack Nicklaus, was 46 in 1986 when he won his 18th and final major tournament. Jimenez was within a stroke of the lead when he found water on 15 and still ended his day only two shots out of a five-under lead that is shared by two Americans: Jason Dufner and Fred Couples.
Couples is 52. One of the five players bunched at four-under, pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy, was two years old when Couples won his only Masters back in 1992. Couples is old enough for the Seniors Tour; Jimenez is just two years shy of it.
Gray Power – in Jimenez’s case, Gray-red Ponytail Power – has taken over Augusta National.
“Fifty-two years old, I’m getting up there,” said a delighted Couples when he finished with a five-under 67. “I consider myself to be a little past where I feel really comfortable with leading a major at any time.
“[But} standing out there, I said, ‘What the hell,' a lot. What do I have to lose here?”
Nothing to lose and everything to gain, including the attention of a shocked golf world.
“The two old guys on Sunday, eh?” Jimenez joked about the possibility of the two playing together, possibly in the final grouping, in Sunday’s final round.
“There’s going to be a little drama here – you never know what can happen.”
Couples, of course, has been here before, the man called “Boom Boom” inspiring Boomers with a sixth-place finish in 2010 and tying for 15th last year. Jimenez is far less known. He has never won a major, though he has second in the U.S. Open (2000) and a third in the British Open (2001) to his credit. A victory here, in a tournament that is increasingly about youth and power, would be astonishing should either of them somehow pull it off, as Jimenez entered the Masters with 40-to-1 odds to win and Couples a distant 125-to-1.
“It’s a little shocking,” conceded Couples. “But I played a really good round of golf.”
So, too, did Jimenez, who had the additional hazard to deal with: playing in the same group as the other pre-tournament favourite, Tiger Woods. Jimenez, strutting about the course like a much-decorated general, seemed oblivious to the shouting crowds and decisively outplayed Woods, who ended with a score of 75 and stands eight shots off the lead established by Couples and Dufner.
Jimenez has a steely mind, if not one of the gym-hardened bodies that are the current flavour in professional golf. His warm-up ritual, captured on video at last year’s British Open, became an instant cyber sensation. Crouching like a bear defecating in the woods, Jimenez then rises to stretch, wildly swiveling his hips and his knees, then pulling the tops of shoes with an iron – all the while smoking a huge stogie.
They call him “The Mechanic” as he adores cars and once worked in a garage. He often likes a glass of wine before he plays. He has a paunch. He smokes four or five cigars a day and was busily lighting one as he met under an oak tree with the media following his round.
His life outlook is simple, but befitting a poor kid from a family with seven boys who started caddying around his native city of Malaga to earn some pocket change. He gave his life to golf, he says, and golf has given him a life he could not otherwise have imagined: his own golf tournament, his Ferrari 550 Maranello, his 50 pairs of golf shoes he has custom made in Milan.
“It is important, no, to love what you are doing?” he told Cigar Aficionado magazine last year. “It is important to enjoy the things that life brings you.”
It is little wonder that the players and media joke about him being golf’s “Most Interesting Man in the World.” He has the accent, the hair, the unshaven face – even if his looks are a tad more shopworn than the actor. But he also has the attitude.
“It is relaxing to enjoy a good wine, a cigar, good food, a whisky,” he told the magazine. “You have to take the time to enjoy them. You cannot enjoy them if you rush them, no? You cannot enjoy life if you rush.”
It would be difficult to find two golfers who have enjoyed their first two days of the year’s first major more than the 52-year-old American and the 48-year-old Spaniard. While others, all younger, appear to be cracking under the pressure, they appear to relish it.
“It will be a very intense weekend,” Jimenez says, re-lighting his cigar and laughing.
“We’ll see what happens,” says Couples.
“Can I win? Yeah – I believe I can.”
And what of the ancient Spaniard, now sucking on his cigar and answering the reporter’s question with an exaggerated leap of his eyebrows.
“Of course,” he says.
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