Jimenez leads early charge by old guard

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The Independent Online

Among the awards handed out during the gala dinner at the Johnnie Walker Classic was the sponsor's own Young Player of the Year title. England's Justin Rose, the 2002 winner, handed over the prize to Australia's Adam Scott, who won in both Europe and America last season.

Trevor Immelman has already defended his South African Open crown to become an early contender for the 2004 award. But the youngsters are far from having it their own way. They have been joined as a considerable force by those in their forties to put on a squeeze on those thirtysomethings who seemed to rule the roost only a decade ago.

At his first opportunity after turning 40 at the start of the year, Miguel Angel Jimenez joined the club of those winning on the European or US tours when they were supposed to be idling away a decade before joining the Seniors circuits.

Technology helps but Jimenez puts as much store in patience and the Spaniard duly outlasted Thomas Bjorn in a thrilling final-round duel at the Alpine club to win his eighth European Tour title.

Early days though it is, Jimenez is also strongly placed to regain the Ryder Cup team place he lost after playing in 1999. Popular, a steady foursomes partner and a tough competitor, Jimenez would be welcomed on to the team by Bjorn for one, although the Spaniard is not exactly chasing a place. He will not play again until Dubai next month.

The lengthening of players' careers has not made it easy to pick each new Ryder Cup captain and Bernhard Langer accepted the position for this year's match only at last year's Open. The German then suggested he may even relinquish the honour should his form merit a place in the team.

Langer was not, as portrayed by some, trying to have his cake and eat it but was merely reserving his options on exceptional circumstances, such as the improbable but not impossible chance he might win, say, the US Masters.

After finishing eighth in his first outing of the year in the States, Langer was joint fourth with a round to go at the FBR Open in Phoenix but thoughts that he might be playing himself into a dilemma were dampened when he slumped to 27th place after a final round of 75.

"If he was going to give up the captaincy it would have to be in the next month to give the new guy time to sort out everything he needs to do," Nick Faldo said.

Faldo, at the age of 46, is adamant his only plan is to attempt to qualify to play on the team and he, like others, is unlikely to want to be a stand-in. The runner-up in the Heineken Classic last year, Faldo returns to Royal Melbourne this week hoping to build on his 13th place in Bangkok. "I'm very pleased with the start and I've got things to work on this week on some of the best greens in the world. Last year they were just passed amazing."

Colin Montgomerie, 94th after the first round, got to third on the leaderboard with eight holes to play before slipping back but said: "After a poor season last year, I'm getting back to where I want to be quicker than I thought I would."

* Jonathan Kaye produced an error-free back nine to win the Phoenix Open by two strokes from Chris DiMarco on Sunday. With a closing four-under-par 67, the Phoenix resident finished 18-under on 266 to claim the first prize of $936,000 (£514,000) and win his second PGA Tour title. Steve Flesch (66) and Vijay Singh (66) tied for third on 269.