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The Mechanic drives to the top of the British Open

July 20, 2013

GULLANE, Scotland (AP) — Miguel Angel Jimenez isn’t about to change things just because he’s leading the British Open.

Bring on the red wine, the cigars, the fine dining.

And don’t forget his rather unique stretching routine.

“I keep elastic and flexible,” the fun-loving Spaniard said from his position atop the leaderboard at baked-out Muirfield.

Again showing how much experience matters at golf’s oldest major championship, the 49-year-old Jimenez scrambled for an even-par 71 on Friday that was good enough to lead at the midway point.

But this tournament was still wide open, especially given the devilish conditions that turned it into a test of patience and resilience.

Tiger Woods, looking to end the longest major drought of his career, was among those one shot back.

Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and first-round leader Zach Johnson were another stroke behind.

In all, 22 golfers were within five shots of the lead, including such imposing figures as Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson — major champions all.

Jimenez can’t wait for the challenge.

“I feel relaxed,” he said. “I love what I’m doing. I play golf. I do this for a living.”

The conditions remained more like Southern California than Scotland on Saturday — sunny with temperatures climbing into the lower 20s Celsius — and there were more chances for scoring than the previous day. After only 11 of 153 golfers broke par in the second round, eight of the first 34 finishers in the third were in the red.

Sergio Garcia and Richard Sterne both shot 68, while Shingo Katayama turned in a 69. However, conditions usually get tougher in the afternoon, after the wind picks up and the greens slicken.

Nicknamed “The Mechanic,” Jimenez is a longtime contender in majors but is perhaps best known for his appearance — a frizzed-out ponytail and bulging belly — and the one-of-a-kind way he gets ready for a round.

Upon arriving at the range, he’ll put his knees together and gyrate his hips both clockwise and counterclockwise, a move that straddles the line between provocative and downright ridiculous. Then he’ll pull out a couple of clubs to help stretch his legs and loosen up his arms, though none of it looks very strenuous.

“I’m amused by his warm-up routine,” Mickelson said. “I would hurry to the course to watch it.”

But this guy is all business out on the course. Jimenez has bounced back from missing four months recovering from a broken right leg sustained in a skiing accident. If he can keep it going through the weekend, he might take a run at Julius Boros, the oldest major champion in golf history when he won the PGA Championship at age 48. Heck, Tom Watson nearly won this tournament a few years ago at age 59.

“Why not?” asked Jimenez, who was at 3-under 139 through two days. “There’s two more rounds to go. You never know what’s going to happen. I’m just going to have fun on the golf course. When I finish here, I’ll have a glass of red wine later on. I’m just going to keep doing the same thing.”

He was not exactly leading the conventional way, far down in the rankings for fairways hit and greens in regulation. But no one had done a better job scrambling for pars.

Jimenez ranked first in the putting, seeming to always find a way to get the ball up close to the hole even during the frequent times he ran into trouble.

“Sometimes, it’s not about making too many birdies,” he said. “It’s about not making bogeys. To play the golf course in this condition, that’s one of the keys.”

Woods was joined at 140 by English favorite Lee Westwood, long-hitting American Dustin Johnson, and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson. Cabrera and Zach Johnson had tough finishes, yet were still very much in the game at 141 with Martin Laird and Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

But the course has been the real winner so far — dry as a bone and firm as a snooker table, giving up only four second-round scores in the 60s. While beachgoers frolicked in the surf along the Forth of Firth, it wasn’t nearly as much fun to play on a links that is more brown than green.

There were balls scooting all over the place. They wound up behind grandstands, in knee-high grass, up against the face of pot bunkers.

Dustin Johnson had to intentionally hit a sideways shot into the rough just to escape a bunker. Mickelson four-putted a hole. Darren Clarke made a quadruple-bogey. And get this — they were all still in contention for the claret jug.

Nicolas Colsaerts was all done after a six-putt at the par-4 15th left him with a 9. He missed the cut by a single shot.

“It was tough out there,” Woods said.

The world’s top-ranked player plodded along most of the day, lipping out a putt from 2½ feet, missing another short putt and settling for a bunch of pars — 12 in a row until his final stroke of the round. Then, he looked like the Tiger of old, rolling in a 15-footer for birdie on Muirfield’s tough closing hole.

He raised his putter toward the blue sky with a flourish, fully aware he was positioned again to break the longest major drought of his career.

“It will be a fun weekend,” said Woods, who shot 71.

Westwood was among that minuscule group putting up a score in the 60s, but even he was staggering a bit by the end. After a brilliant front nine — he carded five birdies — the 40-year-old bogeyed three of the last six holes to finish with a 68.

The last English golfer to win the British Open was Nick Faldo in 1992.

Westwood was feeling no pressure.

“Why not enjoy it out there?” he said. “It’s tough for everybody. So smile your way through.”

Woods is trying to break a drought of his own. He’s 0 for 16 at majors since the 2008 U.S. Open, and missed four others during that stretch recovering from injuries.

Rory McIlroy didn’t come close to making the cut after two miserable rounds left him at 12-over 154. Luke Donald and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose were also heading home, two British favorites who never got anything going.

Maybe they should try Jimenez’s routine.

It’s working just fine for the Mechanic.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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