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Miguel Angel Jimenez (Getty Images)

Veteran Jimenez improving with age

Miguel Angel Jimenez, one of the great characters of European golf, is looking for a vintage performance at Celtic Manor.

By Gordon Simpson, europeantour.com

Miguel Angel Jiménez arrived at Valderrama in 1997 feeling honoured and privileged that his close friend, Seve Ballesteros, should have selected him to act as his right hand man in the first Ryder Cup to be played on Spanish soil.

He drove home along the Costa del Sol highway to Malaga a week later with an empty feeling inside, in spite of the fact that, under Ballesteros’s captaincy, Europe had prevailed over the United States by 14 ½ - 13 ½ .

“Something was missing” explained the 46 year old veteran of this year’s Ryder Cup at The Celtic Manor Resort, adding: “Simply, I really wanted to play.”

Until that point, Jiménez was a 33 year old journeyman on The European Tour with two titles under his belt and little to suggest that he would become a late bloomer. Thirteen years on, Jiménez has won 18 times on The European – 11 since turning 40 – including three times this season alone.

He will shortly scrape back that familiar ponytail for the fourth time in The Ryder Cup. And he can’t wait to get into the think of the action.

He said: “I learned so much from being Seve’s Vice Captain at Valderrama. It was a great experience but I had never played in a Ryder Cup until that point, so I had no idea of the atmosphere or the intensity in the locker room. Something inside me just said: ‘You’ve got to play in this thing’. And I did!”

Jiménez has fond memories of the 2004 contest at Oakland Hills when he experienced the winning feeling for the only time to date and he added: “That was very special, to play in a winning side but also to play in the side which won by a record number of points.”

So far this year, Jiménez has won on three occasions on The Race to Dubai, with his first victory of 2010 in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Further victories followed in the Alstom Open de France and the Omega European Masters, confirming him as one of the game’s most consistent ‘oldies’.

Jiménez thinks he knows why. He said: “I love the game and I never have an injury in all my years on the Tour. I feel physically well and I am like a good wine…getting better with age. To me it’s a message that you can have a long career.

“When I started out I was competing against Seve, Faldo, Langer, Norman, Woosnam, Torrance – the cream of The European Tour – and then I watched the Clarkes, Bjorns and Westwoods come through and now the McIlroys and Manasseros.

“This is the third generation I’ve seen on The European Tour and I will stay to watch the next one! I still have the passion for the game and I don’t mind trying to beat the new generation.”

So are the Ryder Cup rookies all getting it wrong in pumping iron in a bid to out-smart Uncle Sam at The Celtic Manor Resort?

“No,  they are doing the right thing” he insisted. “You need to do what is right for you. There is no right or wrong. Not one way better than the other. They have time to go to the gym and play and practice. It is important to play and practice, that’s for sure. It’s a case of getting the combination right.”

For Jiménez, the right combination happens to be a strong espresso, a bottle of vintage Rioja and a fat Cuban cigar. As long as Colin Montgomerie ensures all three are in plentiful supply in Wales, then Corey Pavin and his fellow Americans will have to watch out!

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