AUGUSTA — Miguel Angel Jimenez had an up-and-down performance in the first round of the Masters Tournament. But the veteran Spaniard never changed his demeanor. Whether he was on top of the leaderboard, or losing three strokes in a two-holes span, Jimenez wore a sly, knowing grin – along with his trademark ponytail – and radiated positivity.
The 50-year-old Jimenez got off to a great start Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club, going 4-under on the first nine. That included a stretch where he birdied three of four holes at the turn to temporarily take the lead. But Jimenez made bogey on No. 11 and followed that with a double on the 12th.
While the green numbers knocked him out of the lead, Jimenez was unfazed. He made his way home with six consecutive pars and finished the round tied for 12th at 1-under 71. That left him three strokes behind Bill Haas (68), who he's grouped with – along with Matteo Manassero (71) – each of the first two rounds.
The trio are scheduled to tee off today at 1:15 p.m. Few players in the field of 97 could be more excited about returning to the course than Jimenez.
“It's pretty nice. I played beautiful golf today, beautiful,” said Jimenez, before making plans to light up a cigar before hitting the driving range. “I'm very pleased to be 4-under after nine holes and moving on.”
Jimenez described his trouble on No. 11 as a poor shot, and the double on 12 as poor luck. He said he hit a beautiful shot on the middle hole of Amen Corner, but it just found the wrong place, resulting in the five on the par-3 hole.
“But after that I played beautifully and it was really nice,” said Jimenez, who seems at home in Augusta, where he's a fan favorite.
This is Jimenez' 15th Masters appearance, and he's had success at Augusta National in the past. He has three top-10 finishes and played every year from 2005-12, making the cut every time. His best finish came in 2008 when he tied for eighth, and his best-ever round at Augusta was a 66 in 2010.
In 2012, Jimenez opened with rounds of 69 and 72 and was in eighth place heading into moving day. Although he faltered on the weekend and finished in 56th place, he remained upbeat.
“I always have a lot of fun. I always have fun,” said Jimenez, who could be extra appreciative of his return to The Masters after missing last year's tournament because he had suffered a right tibial plateau fracture while skiing, something that kept him sidelined for months. “Well, 25 years I've been around the world and it's fun. It's very sad if you go around the world and you go like that, you know.”
Jimenez attributed some of his outlook to his age. He said that years as a professional have helped him with a positive outlook.
“Try to put a smile on your face and don't worry about everything else. You need to smile and make the fans feel happy,” said Jimenez, who didn't concede anything else to the crop of younger golfers in the tournament, including 24 Masters rookies. “Anybody who is here can win the tournament. … It's hard for anyone. There are a lot of young guys that can hit the ball a long ways. I don't hit the ball that far, but I hit it and it goes straight to the flag, you know. It's nice to see that I'm being competitive with all the guys.
“I think I'm not playing bad for 50 years old though.”
Not at all. Although Jimenez' age makes him eligible for the Champions Tour, the PGA's senior circuit, he doesn't plan on playing many tournaments. That's because his primary goal beyond this week is to qualify for the European Ryder Cup team, and he'll need to gain points on the European PGA Tour.
But for now, Jimenez is focused on adding a green jacket to his wardrobe. It would make for a fine smoking jacket for the player infamous for chomping on cigars.
“I smoked it to hide myself in smoke,” Jimenez said of a pre-round stogie, before explaining why he doesn't smoke during rounds at The Masters. “On the course, I don't smoke. I don't want to lose my cigar out there. There's enough worry about the game to worry about where I left my cigar. I smoke them before and after or while practicing. But I don't smoke them on the course.”
When pressed why he smokes his cigars, Jimenez had a simple answer, “I do it because I like it.” The same is true of why at 50, he still plays with the energy and excitement of somebody taking the course at Augusta National for the first time.
“It's always hard. This one is really hard, because you need to be mentally here, mentally strong and then you need to be passionate. That's the main thing,” Jimenez explained. “If you play and keep your passion and keep working on your mood, then you have a good chance.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, of Spain, throws his visor to the ground after his tee shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 10, 2014, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)×