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Jimenez Still Has That Extra Gear

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates | Give that man a cigar. Oh, don’t worry; he’s already got one. 

     Miguel Angel Jimenez outlasted World No. 4 Lee Westwood on the third extra hole of a nervy sudden-death playoff to take the 2010 Omega Dubai Desert Classic title and the $405,000 first prize. Rest assured the Rioja will be flowing for several days from the spout of the Arabian coffee pot that is one of sport’s most spectacular trophies.

     Jimenez is called “the Mechanic” on tour because he used to fix cars in a garage but, he said Sunday, it also describes the methodical way he plays golf. This is his 19th victory on the European Tour in more than 500 tournaments over 22 years of professional golf. All the more remarkable considering he hates flying. “I don’t like airplanes; I’m in the wrong business,” he said, laughing.

      It’s a tribute to his new-found fitness regime (sweating every day in the gym for the past three weeks) that his 46-year-old engine is still running strong and keeping pace with the super-fit 20-year-olds storming the game. Though it probably has just as much to do with his fondness for the preservative qualities of fine wine.

“When I came on Tour in 1988, I was playing against Nick Faldo, Seve (Ballesteros), Woosie (Ian Woosnam), Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle,” Jimenez said. “They are from the top of the wave, the big explosion of European golf. They were my idols and now they are off doing other things and I am still here with the new kids, the new era,” he said, laughing some more. To be sure, he is showing them he can still play.

      He was paired the first two rounds with Pablo Martin (age 23) and Rory McIlroy (20), two rising stars of the game with a combined age three years shy of the old Spaniard. And yet he outscored them all to become the oldest winner on the European Tour since a 47-year-old Mark O’Meara won this tournament in 2004. And he did it all with a friend on his bag, having recently parted company with his regular caddie. A vacancy still applies. Résumés, please, to the Caddy Shack, European Tour HQ, London, England.

Jimenez’s ninth victory in his 40s propels him into the World’s Top 30 and gains him a place in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “Like a good wine, I get better and better with age,” he said. “Guys like Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros hit the ball so long, it’s difficult for guys like me. But here I am.”

      But there is still an empty column in his career statistics – that elusive major championship victory. He has racked up three top 10s in The Masters and one in the PGA Championship. But his best finish overall was a tie for third to champion David Duval in the 2001 British Open and T2 to Tiger Woods in the 2000 U.S. Open. “A major is something I would love to have,” he said. “I hope I have another chance to be on top of a leaderboard and have my chances to win one.”

      Jimenez and Westwood are Ryder Cup teammates who know each other well. They crossed paths coming in and out of the media center Saturday night as joint leaders. “Not you again,” said Jimenez joking. “Yeah, sorry.” Westwood countered. They were the last men standing after 72 holes and bumped into each other behind the 18th green, waiting for the playoff to begin. “C’mon Lee, let’s go.” Jimenez said. This time Westwood had his game face on. No time for idle banter. For Jimenez, his extended life on tour feels like a beautiful way to lead a life. But for Westwood, it’s serious business. He’s on a mission in his 30s to live up to the potential he showed in his 20s.

      Westwood said on the eve of the final round that he wasn’t going to take on any sucker pins but it was just that at the fifth hole that derailed his day. He started off quickly with two birdies, but a double-bogey at the fifth brought him back into the pack with Jimenez. “I went for the flag and I shouldn’t have,” he admitted. His manager, Chubby Chandler, said: “The trouble with Lee is that he is so good now that he sometimes can’t stop himself from going at flags.” Another lesson learned, perhaps, for the European No.1.

      Westwood has now finished third and second in consecutive weeks. Not bad considering he is traditionally a slow starter – 11 of his 14 top 10s in 2009 came after June, including victory at the Portugal Masters and the Dubai World Championship. He’s back training after taking six weeks off over Christmas and his detox diet is, he said, reluctantly, up and running. “Sacrifices have to be made if you want to be the best in the world. I haven’t had a drink for four weeks. It feels like four years,” he said laughing.

      One suspects that’s a training regime too far for the affable Jimenez. Puffing on his cigar in the media interview room (you don’t get that at Riviera and Pebble Beach), the laid back Mechanic said: “I enjoy life on the course and life at home.” The 46-year-old with a ponytail must be the oldest hippie on tour. 

      “Yeah, man, far out,” he didn’t add.         


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