8:49 PM EDT, July 19, 2013
GULLANE, Scotland — Could this British Open be the first golf major ever won by an old man who smokes a cigar and has yet to totally recover from a broken leg he got in a skiing accident?
Or by someone who wears his hair in a ponytail, knows and partakes of the finest wines and, were he not a golfer, would be a pilot?
Or someone who warms up on the driving range by twirling a golf club in his hand and shrugging his neck a couple of times, and who goes to a physical therapist each morning to get work on a tennis elbow he didn't get playing tennis?
Could this happen in a sport that now flaunts the fitness level of its players like it is planning to send a team to play in the NFL? In golf these days, if you are not on the range, you'd better be in the gym.
What if all this were embodied in the same person?
Meet Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain.
He is 49, which is not old, unless you make your living walking miles and miles around a golf course while carrying a little paunch and, by your own admission, wishing you could stop a couple of times in mid-round and light up a stogie.
Jimenez, longtime fixture on the European tour, but an infrequent presence on the U.S. tour — 41 appearances since 2007 — shot even par 71 on Friday. Because he opened with 68, he was three-under par for the tournament and well in the mix for the weekend scramble.
If he won, he would be the oldest major winner ever.
Is he overwhelmed with the stress and pressure of all that?
"I don't have any pressure, you know," 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 are going to have 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?"
He answered his own question with a swear word. Then he apologized and laughed.
Listening to him talk is as much fun as watching him play. If the pro tour is a collection of cookie-cutter types, Jimenez doesn't fit the shape. Literally and figuratively.
So what time will he go to bed, he was asked.
"When I feel like it," he said. "Especially after I smoke my cigar."
And how will he deal with facing the obvious pressures of being in the final group Saturday?
"When tomorrow is coming, when the sun is coming," he said, "I will deal with the thing."
He had two bogeys and two birdies, and that fit well with his stated philosophy of how to approach a major.
"As I said before, sometimes it's not about [how] to make many birdies," he said. "It's about [how] not to make bogeys.
Among the highlights of his round was a sand save on No. 18. He stood in the island bunker made famous by Ernie Els' sensational up and down to finally win the playoff and the title here in 2002. Jimenez was pin high, probably 50 feet away, and splashed it out to a foot. Another par. Another slip-up avoided.
Reporters kept asking him questions about being old, about being a short hitter, about the quirky things that make him so interesting and such an unlikely winner of an endurance test such as the British Open.
He was affronted by the question about whether he was too old to be leading an Open.
"Why? I have not the right to do it?" he said. "Only young people can do it?"
He handled the long-hitter question delightfully.
"No, I'm not one of the long hitters," he said. "Not anymore. Not before, also."
He was even asked about the danger his cigar might present in the midst of all this dry grass.
"Ha," he said. "I didn't smoke on the golf course. … I would like to sometimes, because, hey, it is tough out there, no?"
Yes, it is.
When the leaders were all finished around 8 p.m., with a mere two hours of daylight left, the leaderboard had one player at three under par and a school bus full of challengers, looking up.
What does seeing his name at the top mean to Jimenez?
"You put the smile on the face," he said, pushing up the corners of the same mouth where the fine wine and expensive cigar were soon to go.
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