|Jimenez finds the fun in a tough day at Muirfield|
|Friday, July 19, 2013 11:48 PM|
GULLANE, Scotland — Miguel Angel Jimenez looked like the only guy who was having fun.
On a punishing day at Muirfield — the course with a reputation as the fairest links of them all — leave it to a 49-year-old Spaniard who enjoys the simple pleasures in life to make such a demanding test at the British Open seem like just another round of golf.
There was calamity all around him Friday.
Zach Johnson lost the lead with a 3-putt from 10 feet. Brandt Snedeker, regarded as one of the best putters in golf, took four putts from 15 feet. Tiger Woods played well enough to be only one shot behind and rarely smiled.
Jimenez, with his frizzy red hair bunched into a ponytail, made his way around Muirfield with only two bogeys for an even-par 71 that gave him a 1-shot lead over Woods, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson going into the weekend.
What’s a 49-year-old doing with the 36-hole lead at the British Open?
“Why? I have not the right to do it? Only the young people can do it?” Jimenez asked. “Why? I’m fine. We keep playing golf and still get myself on the golf course and that’s the secret. Enjoy yourself what you do in life. That’s what I’m doing.”
For so many others, it was tough to enjoy anything about a course that brought the easterly wind for the first time all week and greens that hit warp speed even after tournament officials hand-watered the putting surfaces overnight.
Woods went 12 holes without a birdie, saving his round with a collection of tough pars, and finished with a 6-iron from 212 yards to 15 feet for a birdie and a 71. Westwood matched the best round of the day with a 68, while Stenson had a 70. Both of them had a double bogey on their cards. Dustin Johnson got himself into such a predicament on the 15th that his only option from a bunker was to aim sideways into the rough. He shot 72.
“Every hole is playing hard,” Johnson said. “You don’t get any breaks. You’ve really got to grind it out. It’s tough off the tee. It’s tough on your approach shot and it’s tough putting.”
Phil Mickelson was in range of the lead until a 4-putt on the 16th hole, his second double bogey of the day. That was one hole after Mickelson made a par putt that would have gone 15 feet by if he had missed.
Zach Johnson couldn’t think of too many poor shots he hit in the blazing sunshine, except maybe for a pitching wedge he punched from 158 yards that bounded over the back of the 15th green. He chipped to 10 feet and took three putts from there for a double bogey, and he dropped one more shot on the final hole for a 75.
“I enjoy difficult tests,” said Johnson, who won the 2007 Masters in the toughest conditions at Augusta in more than 50 years. “I think everyone does. ‘Fun’ … you’ve got to use that term loosely. What’s fun about it is that we don’t see this but once a year.”
The reference was to links golf, though such brown, brittle conditions have not been seen at the Open since Hoylake in 2006; the greens there weren’t nearly that quick. Mickelson added the Muirfield greens in these conditions were faster than Augusta.
Jimenez, who was at 3-under 139, has his own definition.
“The fun does not mean you have the biggest smile and start laughing all day,” he said. “Fun is when you enjoy what you’re doing. I play golf and I enjoy it. And it’s fun to me, no? Sometimes you can see me serious because of a situation but having fun doesn’t mean that you are falling on the ground and start laughing.”
If he cared to look behind him, Jimenez might have reason to be concerned.
The biggest name was Woods, already a 4-time winner this year who has been steering his way around Muirfield with mainly irons that go forever on the rock-hard fairways. More ominous is that he is making so many important putts, even if they are for par.
“There will be no surprise to me if he’s picking up the claret jug on Sunday night,” said Graeme McDowell, who played with Woods and was seven shots behind. “But I’m not writing off the rest of the field. There’s quality players here in this field and I’m certainly not writing myself off. But if he continues to play the way he’s playing, he’s going to be tough to beat.”
Westwood surged to the top of the leaderboard with a 31 on the front nine and one more birdie at the 12th but dropped three shots on the last six holes. Even so, he gave himself another chance to capture his first major in what already is banner sporting year for England. The last Englishman to win the British Open was Nick Faldo in 1992 at Muirfield.
Angel Cabrera, among six players who had a share of the lead at one point Friday, dropped five shots over the last three holes for a 72. Even so, he was only two shots behind at 1-under 141 along with Zach Johnson, Martin Laird (71) and Rafael Cabrera-Bello (74).
Only nine players remained under par on a course that is playing to an average of just under 75.
Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old Texan, was closing in on the lead until a double bogey on the 15th, followed by two more bogeys that dropped him to a 74. That still was enough to put him in the large group at 1-over 143 that included Mickelson, Masters champion Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, Charl Schwartzel and Darren Clarke, who has all but vanished since winning the claret jug two years ago at Royal St. George’s.
Clarke had a 71 despite a quadruple-bogey.
Most players prefer a firm, fast and fiery golf course. Some of them are starting to feel burned, even Schwartzel, who had a 68.
There were 23 players separated by only five shots going into the weekend and 10 of them were major champions.
“I think it’s going to be a good test to be able to separate yourself if you’re playing well,” Mickelson said. “The great thing about tomorrow is that now all the players that are in contention will be on the course at the same time. And that’s going to be key.”
Some players won’t be around at all. U.S. Open champion Justin Rose shot a 77 and missed the cut. Rory McIlroy shot 40 on the front nine to take himself out of the tournament. He had a 75 for another weekend off in what is becoming a long, troublesome year.
Creamer, Recari, Walsh lead Marathon; Park lurking
SYLVANIA — Paula Creamer hasn’t won an LPGA Tour event in the past three years.
Yet the memories of the times she has triumphed always give her a lift when needed most.
Creamer, who won the tournament five years ago when it was known as the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic, shared the lead and top-ranked Inbee Park was lurking nearby Friday after the second round of the Marathon Classic.
“You know when to step on the gas and when not to,” she said. “When you get a rhythm going out here it kind of takes care of itself. Experience, in any case, takes care of the issues that you have out there. It’s just being confident.”
In the 2008 event, she shot a career-best 11-under 60 in the first round and followed up with a 65, then held off all challengers for a 2-shot victory.
With a host of big names bunched high on the leaderboard through 36 holes of the Marathon, she knows she can’t put it on cruise control. But she also feels good about her chances.
Creamer has won nine times on tour but not since the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open. She shot a 3-under 68 on Friday on the heels of an opening 66 to pull even with Alison Walshe and Spain’s Beatriz Recari at 8-under 134.
Recari, who picked up her second career tour win earlier this year, had the day’s low round with a 65. She climbed from a tie for 19th after opening with a 69.
She had made the cut in 46 consecutive tournaments before shooting an 81 in the opening round and missing out on the weekend at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago at Sebonack.
Recari sounded as if she had mixed feelings about the streak ending.
“No, I didn’t have any weight on my shoulders,” she said. “I would have loved to continue it and it was a disappointment not to make it. But I’ve had some time to reflect and I’m actually pleased that it happened because it was a good lesson that I had to learn.”
Walshe, the first-round leader after a 65, hasn’t won in her four years on the LPGA Tour. But she showed some backbone by turning things around after bogeying her first hole on Friday.
Jacqui Concolino followed a 67 with a 68 and was alone in fourth, a shot back.
The pack at 6 under included the world’s top-ranked pro, Park and top-ranked amateur, Lydia Ko. They were joined by Chie Arimura.
Park is the hottest commodity in the LPGA these days, with six wins already — including the first three major championships — this year. She had won her last three starts before finishing 14th last week.
She finished off a 69 in heat and high humidity at Highland Meadows Golf Club.
The 25-year-old South Korean felt pleased with her putting. In other words, the rest of the pack might want to look out.
Ko also birdied her final two holes to polish off a 67. The 16-year-old South Korean-born New Zealander, is in prime position to make a run at her second victory on the LPGA Tour. She was the youngest player ever to win a tour event last year at the age of 15 at the Canadian Women’s Open, shortly after winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
She easily made the cut in suburban Toledo, her 22nd in 22 starts against professionals.
Arimura had a 67.
Defending champion So Yeon Ryu (69), rising American star Lexi Thompson (71) and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (68) were all at 5 under
Mark Rypien leads American Century Championship
STATELINE, Nev. — Former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien had an eagle and three birdies Friday to take a 2-point lead after the first round of the American Century Championship.
Rypien finished with 27 points at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course under the modified Stableford scoring system that awards graduated points for pars or better.
He eagled the par-5 16th, hitting a hybrid club to 8 feet.
Actor Lucas Black was second with 25 points, followed by former NFL quarterback Chris Chandler with 24. Former Denver quarterback John Elway, Golden State guard Steph Curry and former NHL player Jeremy Roenick were tied for fourth place with 22 points.
Defending champion Dan Quinn, a five-time winner and former NHL player, struggled with only 13 points.
Niebrugge, Kim reach Public Links final
LORTON, Va. — Oklahoma State sophomore Jordan Niebrugge and University of California junior Michael Kim each won two matches Friday at Laurel Hill to advance to the 36-hole final in the U.S. Amateur Public Links.
Niebrugge, from Mequon, Wis., edged 16-year-old Dou Zecheng of China 1 up in the morning quarterfinals and beat James Erkenbeck of San Diego 3 and 2 in the afternoon semifinals.
Kim, a Walker Cup player from Del Mar, Calif., beat Robby Shelton IV of Wilmer, Ala., 1 up in the quarterfinals, and topped Eric Sugimoto of San Diego 4 and 3 in the semifinals.
The tournament is limited to players who don’t hold privileges at any course that doesn’t extend playing privileges to the general public. The 36-hole championship match is today.
The winner will get a spot next year in the Masters, if still an amateur.