- Associated Press - Friday, July 19, 2013

GULLANE, Scotland — The stretching routine that Miguel Angel Jimenez goes through before each round may look a bit ridiculous.

It’s sure working out, though.


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The fun-loving Spaniard, again showing how much experience matters at golf’s oldest major championship, scrambled for an even-par 71 on Friday that was good enough to lead midway through the British Open at baked-out Muirfield.

He can hardly relax.

Tiger Woods was among four players just one stroke behind, a group that also included English favorite Lee Westwood, long-hitting American Dustin Johnson, and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson. Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and first-round leader Zach Johnson were another stroke back, still in the game despite tough finishes.

The course was the real winner on this day — dry as a bone and firm as a snooker table, giving up only four scores in the 60s. Another warm, sunny day along the Forth of Firth had nearby beachgoers frolicking in the surf, like this was Southern California instead of Scotland, but it made things miserable out on a course 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. Phil Mickelson four-putted a hole. Darren Clarke made a quadruple-bogey. And get this — they were all still in contention for the claret jug.

Leading the way was Jimenez, a cigar-smoking, wine-loving golfer nicknamed “The Mechanic” who is perhaps best known outside Europe for the unique 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 — silly looking enough as it is, but especially for a guy with a hefty belly and even heftier ponytail. 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 last winter. 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, whose 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’s not exactly leading the conventional way, far down in the rankings for fairways hit and greens in regulation. But no one has 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.

“I’m playing very solid,” Jimenez said. “In these conditions, it’s not easy. With these pin positions, it’s very, very tough to get in close.”

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