Already the oldest winner in European Tour history, Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez now has the chance to become the oldest major champion as well in the 142nd Open Championship.
American Julius Boros has held that distinction since winning the US PGA Championship in 1968 aged 48, but 49-year-old Jimenez claimed the halfway lead at a parched Muirfield thanks to a second round of 71.
Jimenez, who broke his leg in a skiing accident last December shortly after winning the Hong Kong Open aged 48 and 318 days, carded two birdies and two bogeys to finish three under par, one ahead of England’s Lee Westwood, world number one Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.
The hard and fast conditions claimed a number of high-profile victims, with Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson four-putting the 15th and 16th greens respectively, Ryder Cup star Nicolas Colsaerts taking nine on the 15th and US Open champion Justin Rose and Luke Donald missing the cut on 10 over par.
World number two Rory McIlroy, who described his own play as “brain dead” after an opening 79, also made an early exit on 12 over – the cut fell at eight over – and defending champion Ernie Els felt the 14th and 15th greens were “getting out of hand.”
Asked what could be done to make them better after a 74 left him six over, a visibly frustrated Els simply said: “Water.”
Jimenez is more famous for his love of cigars and red wine than water and would therefore be a fitting winner of the Claret Jug on Sunday, especially 25 years after the late Seve Ballesteros’ last Open victory at Lytham.
“It would be very nice,” he said.
“I’ve been 25 years on the tour, 19 victories on the tour, and I would love to have a major in my career, of course. Why not this one? I would love it. It’s amazing, you know.
“Of course I feel pressure, anything that is important to you makes you feel pressure, but as long as I can handle it there is no problem.”
Westwood – who has had nine top-10 finishes in his last 17 majors – had reached five under when he raced to the turn in 31 and then birdied the 12th, but even dropping three shots in his last six holes could not dampen the 40-year-old’s mood after a 68.
“It’s a major and I love playing the Open Championship,” said Westwood, who recently enlisted the help of Woods’ coach Sean Foley on his long game and 1991 Open champion Ian Baker-Finch – a neighbour since his winter move to Florida - on his putting as he seeks a first major title.
“It’s the biggest event of the year for me. Why not enjoy it out there? It’s tough for everybody so smile your way through it.
“I thought one over would be right in contention so to be two under is a real bonus. The greens were a little softer this morning. I repaired a pitch mark on the second and third but that was about it as far as that was concerned.
“I was pleased to be six under through 12. I was playing some great stuff and it was just getting harder as the holes progressed.”
Woods, whose last major title came in the 2008 US Open, carded two birdies in his first five holes but then had to wait until the 18th for another after dropping shots at the eighth and 11th.
“I’m in a good spot,” the 37-year-old said.
“I’ve just got to continue plodding along, continue just being patient, putting the ball in the right spots.
“We’re not going to get a lot of opportunities out there but when I have I’ve been able to capitalise and hopefully I can continue doing that.”
From the start of his professional career, Woods played in 46 consecutive major championships and won 14 of them. Since the last of those victories five years ago there have been 20 more. Woods has played in 16 and won none.
“I’ve been right there, I give myself chances. I’ve had chances on the back nine of many of those Sundays,” he added.
“Just one of those things where I haven’t gotten it done.
“I’m not going to win every major I play in, but certainly I can try and put myself there. If I give myself enough opportunities, I’ll get my share, and I think I have so far in my career.”
Stenson won his maiden European Tour title in 2001 but then went through the first of two career slumps, the second coming in 2011 and leaving him 230th in the world rankings at the start of last year.
Now back up to 30th, the former Ryder Cup player took a two-shot lead into the final round of the Scottish Open last week only to finish third after a closing 73.
“I’m up here and playing in a big tournament again,” said Stenson, who was third at both Birkdale in 2008 and St Andrews in 2010.
“I think I’ve got the experience to do well in these championships. Tough conditions is something that I enjoy and suits my game, as well.
“I might still look for a bit more confidence and a bit more trust in my long game. I feel like I’ve been a bit wishy-washy these two days. But at times I’ve hit some nice ones and committed to some good shots as well.
“Obviously I would like to be the first Swede or Scandinavian to win a major. We’ve got some work to do before we talk about that. I’d rather talk about how that feels on Sunday, if it happens.”