Miguel Angel Jimenez is one of six players 50 or older to make the cut.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
AUGUSTA, Ga. — At 50 and with a weathered face that makes him appear even older, Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain looks as though he should be on the Champions Tour rather than on the leader board heading into the final day of the 78th Masters.
As it is, he is both.
Jimenez is headed to the Champions Tour this week to make his debut at the Greater Gwinnett Championship just up the road in suburban Atlanta. But, before he does that, he will make a run at his first green jacket and a magical record set 28 years ago by Jack Nicklaus.
The thought tantalizes Jimenez. And anyone who has seen the pony-tailed man known as "The Mechanic."
"I feel great, I feel fantastic," Jimenez said. "I like the feeling of the knot in my stomach. I feel that thing since Monday when I got here. It doesn't disappear. I love that kind of pressure. I love that thing. That's why I'm still competing."
Jimenez is one of six players 50 years or older who made the 36-hole cut, a Masters record. But, after making seven birdies Saturday and shooting 66, Jimenez is doing more than competing at the Augusta National Golf Club. He is two shots from the lead held by Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth heading into the final round.
Jimenez tied the record for low 18-hole score by a senior, set by Ben Hogan in the third round in 1967 and matched by Fred Couples in the first round in 2010.
On a day when Spieth, 20, has a chance to become the youngest winner in Masters history, Jimenez has put himself in position to become the oldest winner in tournament history.
What's going on here?
"Experience is always very important," Jimenez said. "Experience is very important. Not about hitting the shot or whatever, it's just about passion and staying calm. This golf course is demanding. You need to be very strong mentally."
Maybe that explains why six players 50 and older - Jimenez, Couples, Vijay Singh, Bernhard Langer, Larry Mize and Sandy Lyle - made the 36-hole cut, the most in the tournament's 78-year history. That eclipsed the previous record of four set most recently in 2013.
And while a plethora of big-name players never made it to the weekend at Augusta National, most notably Phil Mickelson, Jimenez finished the third round with the energy of a 20-year-old - shooting 32 with five birdies to finish tied with Rickie Fowler at 3-under 213.
"Every hole he's been on the fairway somewhere," said Lyle, his playing partner. He never put himself under pressure. He hit the irons well, he's made some putts, and he's got some mojo going and he just kept doing it and he finished strong. Those are the little things that are so helpful."
One of these days, someone is going to come along and break the record of being the Masters' oldest champion, the mark set by Nicklaus when he was 46 in that magical moment in 1986. The players stay in shape and remain competitive longer because of the Champions Tour. Equipment makes up for a loss of distance.
Couples, 54, has been making a run at Augusta National for the past five years. He is in modest contention again at 1 under after shooting 73, which was slightly better than his third-round scoring average of 74.6 the past three years.
Now it is the cigar-chomping man with ponytail and aviator sunglasses who has a chance to be an unlikely Masters champion. After making 12 birdies in three days, Jimenez said he is going to keep churning.
"My game plan is to be aggressive," Jimenez said. "This is a golf course that you cannot be too much aggressive. You need to be always on its low side of the hole. I always say that.
"I know at the beginning of the day, you never know what's going to happen, but you try to make birdies and make as many as possible. You know it's going to be tough at the end of the day and then [Sunday] at the end of the day also."
It will be a nice way to head to the Champions Tour. Real nice.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.
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