The Masters 2014: Jubilant Jimenez takes route 66 to stay in with a real chance of glory

 

augusta national

Chalk one up for the Round Bellies. Fifty-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez's six-under-par 66 yesterday equalled the Masters record for a score by a player over 50. He shares the honour with fellow wrinklies Ben Hogan (third round in 1967) and Fred Couples (first round in 2010).

And he did it puffing on his trademark stogie while waddling around Augusta National with his Oliver Hardy waistline and nose for a fine rioja. So much for this being the age of the golfing athlete. "I feel great. I feel fantastic. I like the feeling of the knot in my stomach," Jimenez said after his round. "I feel that thing since Monday when I got here. It doesn't disappear. I love that kind of pressure. I love that thing. That's why I'm still competing. My game plan is to be aggressive," he said. He is three under par and in with a chance to challenge for a green jacket today and that elusive first major victory.

Jimenez has become a cult hero on tour, especially when he warms up on the driving range with a stretching routine that looks like a bad audition for a seniors' ballet school. Fans love him. Does he know he makes them laugh with his stretching? "Probably it's funny. Sometimes I'm looking at myself on video, and I'm laughing too," he said to much laughter. "It's nice, it's bueno. If you are 50, it doesn't mean that you cannot play well. I'm still moving. I'm still flexible. I love what I'm doing and I hope I'm still in the same condition for another 25 years."

All joking apart, the Spaniard has won 20 times on the European Tour and is ranked 40th in the world. He has a real chance of once again making the Ryder Cup team in September. Patience and experience was Jimenez's answer for how he followed up Friday's 76 with yesterday's 66. It's advice some of the stellar names that are no longer here could do with listening to. His secret to good golf and a long career? "Remember to smile," he said.

There wasn't much smiling from many of the game's stellar names, many of whom were absent over the weekend. Taxi to the airport for Phil Mickelson, missing from Masters Sunday for the first time in 17 years, along with European Ryder Cup players Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell plus Ernie Els, Dustin Johnson, Victor Dubuisson, Angel Cabrera and Matteo Manassero. Exits made all the more embarrassing by Jimenez's performance and the clutch of former champions in the Golden Oldies' Club that survived to play all four rounds. Hats doffed to Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Larry Mize and Vijay Singh.

McDowell, 2010 US Open champion and Ryder Cup hero, was a beaten man. "There will be no green jacket in my wardrobe any time in the near future," he said. "I have got some work to do before I can win around this place. The second you lose confidence and get a little scared of it, it beats the crap out you," he said. "But it's all good. Where else do you want to be in the golfing world? I will find a way around here some year."

Donald and Garcia may be almost unbeatable as a Ryder Cup partnership but they got handed a lesson on how to play Augusta by 2012 champion Bubba Watson, who made up their threeball for the first two rounds. "It's tough to watch Bubba," Donald said. "He's played extremely well. You can see how he has had some success around here, hitting wedges into a lot of holes and I'm hitting six-iron." Garcia had already laid the foundations for failure on Thursday, saying: "I don't feel the comfort." No surprises then that he joined his pal Donald for the early drive out of Magnolia Drive. He was in little mood for a post-mortem. On Bubba? "Everything was impressive." On the wind? "It's windy."

Another lefty who is normally comfortable around this fabled course is three-times Masters champion Mickelson. But not this year. Yet he took his disappointment with good humour. "It was a really fun challenge," he said. "The golf course is awesome. There are birdies out there if you play well. But I'm not really sharp," he said.

Mickelson was asked if he would be watching the Masters on television at home. His answer spoke for all those stars absent. "Probably, yeah," he said. "It will kind of be my punishment."

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