Miguel Angel Jimenez acknowledges the crowd after putting for a birdie… (Peter Muhly / AFP / Getty…)
From Sandwich, England — Friday was senior citizen's day at the British Open. Not at the gate, on the course.
That was best epitomized by the late-afternoon march down the 18th fairway by a man in an orange shirt who had a curly knot of hair, tucked under a cap and tied in a pony tail.
The gallery, still packed into the stands and crowded around the barriers near the green, roared its affection. That was returned by a doff of his cap.
This is Europe, where they know Miguel Angel Jimenez, know how good he is, and how, if he is in contention in a major tournament, it is no fluke. If this had been the United States and a gathering of casual golf fans had been around an 18th green, there likely would have been a less enthusiastic reaction. It would have been more like if a gate crasher took the field.
Appearances can be deceiving. In the world of tall, slim, flexible young golfers, Jimenez's is.
He is 47, a Spaniard who won 18 times on the European Tour, including 11 titles after he turned 40. He started playing tournament golf in 1988, won for the first time in 1992, and is one of golf's ageless wonders.
It was somehow fitting that he stayed in the title hunt with a 71 on Friday, leaving him in a group of four only a shot behind leaders Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and Lucas Glover of the United States. It was fitting because, even before he stepped onto the course, he had created somewhat of a TV sensation.
For some reason, cameras were pointed his direction when he went out to warm up. And what was captured, for those who want a chuckle, is likely to go viral on the Internet.
Jimenez braced himself with his clubs and squatted for a few seconds, squeezed his knees together and kind of rotated them, then planted his heels and pulled back on his toes with a golf club. Next he spun the clubs with his wrists, as if he were getting ready for a baton-twirling act, before taking a few swings and deeming himself ready to go.
His next book will be titled "Winning Golf: The 20-Second Warm-Up."
Oh, yes. One more important detail: All of this was done with a huge cigar in his mouth.
"I don't smoke during tournament rounds," Jimenez said, "[But] practicing, a big cloud, it's in my mouth."
After his warm-up, he went out and played the kind of round all the younger, more flexible, nonsmoking guys would covet. Physical fitness gurus and health advocates worldwide covered their faces with their hands.
Jimenez, listed in the PGA Tour media guide at 5 feet 10 and 165 pounds, but elsewhere at 184, didn't quite ever get the orange shirt completely tucked over his tummy during his round.
That was also fitting on a day in which soon-to-be 43-year-old Clarke shared the lead — as well as some of Jimenez's body shape — and Davis Love III, 47; Tom Lehman, 52; and Thomas Bjorn, 40, were all on the leader board, which had a top 13 separated by two shots. Clarke and Love shot 68s. Lehman, the 1996 champion, shot 67. Bjorn, who had shared the 18-hole lead with an opening 65, held his game together nicely on the back nine after a bad start and shot 72.
Clarke is listed at 6-2, 215, and like Jimenez, has a bit of trouble getting his shirt to stay tucked in the front. He says one of his main handlers, a man named Chubby (what else?), has maintained that Clarke plays better fat.
"I've obviously been adhering to that theory," Clarke said. "After seeing myself on television, I think he might have a point."
Clarke said that somebody whistled at him on the practice tee Thursday when he was doing his stretching.
"I hoped it was a lady, but then he whistled again. Same guy," Clarke said. "I'm doing something wrong."
When somebody told him that the same guy whistled at Jimenez on the practice range Friday, and that Jimenez was chomping his cigar at the time, Clarke drew another round of laughter: "He's an athlete, same as me."
Nor will Bjorn be modeling for Men's Health magazine soon, although Lehman and Love III have managed to stay decently trim. So the weight thing is not a trend.
There was one more huge success story among the cranky and creaky here Friday.
Tom Watson, 61, a five-time British Open champion and a near miss titlist just two years ago, not only made the cut at two over and was just six shots back at 142 (after rounds of 72 and 70) but he also hit the shot of the day.
On the par-three sixth hole, playing 160 yards, Watson hit a high-floater that took one bounce and slammed into the hole. He said it was his 15th hole-in-one, most of them in tournaments, and that he hit a four-iron.
"Old guys hit four-irons 160 yards into the wind," he said. "The kids are hitting six-irons."
Jimenez wasn't around for much post-play discussion. After he finished Thursday, he said he was mostly hungry and was going to eat. He also told reporters he had a favorite drink, Rioja Roda I.
That is a Spanish red wine, a fine one.