SANDWICH, England — He is called the Mechanic, Madge (MAJ), Spafro (Spanish Afro), and the Most Interesting Man in the World. If you can measure a man's popularity by his nicknames, 47-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez — 18-time European tour winner, wine connoisseur, cigar aficionado, ponytail wearer — is always among friends. How did the latest Dove soap campaign not include this guy? No one is more comfortable in his own skin.
Asked how he'd mark the occasion of his first-round 66 at the 140th British Open at Royal St. George's, which left him a shot behind co-leaders Thomas Bjorn and amateur Tom Lewis, and tied with Lucas Glover and Webb Simpson, Jimenez surprised exactly no one. The man from Malaga, Spain — passionate cook, driver of fine racecars, father of two — was going to enjoy "a big, fat cigar," and a nice glass of Rioja. But wait. He was going to do that anyway.
"First thing I'm going to do is going to eat," said Jimenez, who saved par on 18 after missing the fairway, laying up, and stiffing a wedge to inside five feet. "And then I'll probably hit some balls, some putts, go to the merchandise [tent] with my sons to find some shirt with the logo. Like a human, no? I want to buy also a shirt for me. I am a fan of the Open, too, you know, apart from a player."
Like a human, no? That's Jimenez's appeal. He inhabits his life exactly how you imagine yourself living the dream, minus the hair. He drives a red Ferrari. After he won the 2010 Dubai Desert Classic, beating Lee Westwood, he posed for a picture with his head peeking through the handle of the huge trophy. He lit up a cigar at his press conference before being told to extinguish it.
But while he's been called "a red-haired poodle," he can rip your arm off. After he edged Bjorn at the 2004 Johnnie Walker Classic, the beaten Dane heartily endorsed Jimenez for Europe's Ryder Cup side. "As tough as he is, he will be a good guy to have," Bjorn said. And he has been; Jimenez has played four Cups.
He broke his putter in anger on the 13th hole of the second round at Volvo Champions in Bahrain earlier this year, and birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to tie for the 36-hole lead — while putting with his lob wedge. He would eventually finish tied for second, one stroke behind Paul Casey. The image of Jimenez the bon vivant is so widespread few people know how good he really is.
"This could be a good course for him," Henrik Stenson (72 Thursday) said of his Ryder Cup teammate. "Length isn't really an issue, and he keeps it in play off the tee and doesn't make too many mistakes."
Playing with Peter Uihlein and Geoff Ogilvy, Jimenez made four birdies and no bogeys Thursday. He averaged just 257.5 yards off the tee, or about 35 yards behind the field average, and took only 24 putts, which is pretty good considering he came into this week having missed the cut at the French Open and the U.S. Open. (He did manage to find a tapas bar in Washington, D.C.)
Jimenez is a late bloomer in part because he was a late starter. He took up golf at 15, having first experienced the game as a kid who picked up the balls at the driving range. He caddied at the 1979 Spanish Open, and turned pro three years later. Although he radiates joie de vivre (he told ESPN on Thursday, "There are more things to do in life than golf the ball") he is not without a work ethic. He hung around Congressional on the weekend to smooth out the kinks in his game, and came into this week with a new driver, new fairway woods and a new putter. He knows how to work, how to play, and what he needs.
Rory McIlroy was asked after his first-round 71 how many hangovers he'd had since winning the U.S. Open at Congressional. "About four," he said, laughing. If you asked Jimenez the same question, odds are he wouldn't understand it. You get the feeling he's figured out buzz maintenance, old-man stretching, and a lot of other stuff we can only guess at when we appraise his full body of work.
"It doesn't matter what your age is to be a good sportsman," he said.
Of his 18 victories, Jimenez has racked up 11 in his 40s, making him the Euro equivalent of Kenny Perry or Vijay Singh. And he's done it with a proudly convex midsection hanging over his belt that suggests he hasn't missed many meals, and, yes, he'd like to see the dessert menu. The oldest player at last fall's Ryder Cup, Jimenez earned two points, including a 4-and-3 pasting of Bubba Watson. He was the inspiration for Cigar Guy — the Jimenez fan whose costumed image went viral after he popped up in the background of a Tiger Woods photo.
That's pure Jimenez. He crushes one of America's brightest talents and we remember him for Cigar Guy. Not to worry, Jimenez probably got a bang out of it.
Alas, his cover may not last. Three more rounds like the one he shot Thursday, and his rep as an accidental world-class golfer will go up in smoke.