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.
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.”
Woods plodded along most of the day, lipping out a putt from 2 1/2 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 also shot 71. “I was kind of fighting it.”
Everyone was. 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 wants to end that streak with his first major title.
“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.
Whoever wins this one will have to earn it. While the conditions look perfect for scoring, nothing like the miserable weather that struck the Open the last time it was at Muirfield in 2002, there weren’t many chances for going low. The greens were just too slick, the pin placements just too tough.
It was too much for old-timers such as Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Open champion who started with a surprising 67 that left him one stroke behind Zach Johnson after Day 1. The 56-year-old lost his ball at No. 6, leading to a double-bogey, and stumbled to the finish with a 78.
“It’s pretty simple: If you don’t hit it good in an Open championship with the rough the way it is out there, you’re going to make some bogeys,” O’Meara said. “The short game is key. You have to putt well. I did none of those well.”
Tom Lehman soared to 77 after opening with a 68. Todd Hamilton followed up a 69 with an 81.
The young weren’t spared, either.
Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old who last weekend became the PGA Tour’s youngest winner since 1931, made only two bogeys through his first 32 holes and was 3 under. Then came a double-bogey at the 15th, back-to-back bogeys at the next two holes, and a missed chance at No. 18 when a 4-footer for birdie slid by the cup. Just like that, the youngster found himself at 1-over 143. He bent over in frustration alongside the green.
Rory McIlroy won’t even be around for the weekend. He finished at 12-over 154 after two miserable rounds, missing the cut. So did Luke Donald and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, two British favorites who never got anything going.
Maybe they should try Jimenez’s routine.
It’s working just fine for the Mechanic.