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Jimenez fires flawless 66, looks for first major

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SANDWICH, England – Known for his love of cigars and a post-round glass of Rioja, the ponytailed Miguel Angel Jimenez is one of Europe’s most charismatic golfers.

The 47-year-old Spaniard also can be one of the continent’s finest players.

He demonstrated that at the British Open on Thursday, shooting a bogey-free 4-under 66 to move into second place early in the first round at Royal St. George’s.

“I played very solid all day long,” he said. “I played very well from tee to green, putted well and that’s what you need to make pars on this course.”

Using all the experience built up over 28 years on the European Tour, and four Ryder Cups spanning 1999 to 2010, Jimenez overcame windy conditions on the links course with a mixture of solid driving and fine putting.

With Jimenez sitting just behind another 40-something, Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn (65), and just ahead of 51-year-old American Mark Calcavecchia (69) on the fledgling leaderboard, it was a good opening day for old-timers.

“It doesn’t matter what your age is to be a good sportsman. On links like this, you see all the years – any age can be on the leaderboard,” Jimenez said. “Experience, timing, patience. They are things that age gives to you.

“It’s always nice to see the people around my age up there. I’m very happy to see them keep moving along and playing with these young guys.”

Jimenez has never won a major, but is no stranger to fast starts at the British Open. At Turnberry in 2009, he was the first-round leader but came home tied for 13th. His best finish remains a tie for third at Lytham in 2001, his only top-10 placing in the tournament.

His rapport with the European crowds – bolstered by his Ryder Cup appearances – stems from his simple approach to life.

“I try to live my life and enjoy myself,” he said.

Jimenez came to Sandwich with no form, having missed the cut in four of his last five tournaments on the European Tour, but he quickly found his stride with two birdies either side of the turn.

The closest he came to dropping a shot was on the par-4 No. 18. Laying up in the middle of the fairway after a rare errant drive, Jimenez pitched a wedge to within five feet with his third shot.

An unforgiving putt ensured his card stayed unblemished and earned him hearty applause from the gallery.

He certainly earned his glass of wine.

“It doesn’t matter what my score was, I was going to have a Rioja,” he said, with a big grin. “And a big, fat cigar.”