JOY FOR JIMENEZ AT THE OMEGA EUROPEAN MASTERS
Crans Montana, Switzerland, September 3: Miguel Angel Jimenez produced his career lowest round of 10-under-par 61 to race into a three-shot halfway lead at the Omega European Masters on Friday.
The pony-tailed and cigar-chomping Spaniard, who will make his fourth Ryder Cup appearance for Europe next month, put himself in prime position for a third title of the season after establishing a new course record at the Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club with two magnificent eagles and six birdies.
Man-of-the-moment Edoardo Molinari and teen sensation Matteo Manassero, both from Italy, ended the day in tied second place following rounds of 65 and 67 respectively in the €2 million (US$2.8 million) event co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.
Asia’s best placed golfer was Korea’s Noh Seung-yul, who produced a solid 66 to lie in tied 19th place, nine shots off the pace. Noh earned praise from playing partner Greg Norman of Australia, who predicted a bright future for the current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader.
The 46-year-old Jimenez, who leads on 14-under-par 128, is on course for a grand Omega double as he won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic earlier in the season to go along with the French Open title.
He oozed class and confidence and produced breathtaking shots to leave his rivals in his wake, which raised his hope of victory at the stunning mountain resort in what is his 22nd straight appearance in Crans Montana.
Jimenez said the magical 59, which has never been shot previously on the Asian Tour or European Tour, flashed before his eyes after he went 10-under for the round through 15 holes. But he agonisingly parred home his last three holes.
“After I made the eagle from 18 inches at the 14th, I thought there was a chance and I then made a birdie at the 15th. However it wasn’t to be. It’s not every day you get round in 61 shots so it’s okay. I played very solid from tee to green. All the 14 clubs in the bag were working well and that’s what you need to shoot a 61,” said the smiling Spaniard, a 17-time winner on the European Tour.
“I will try hard (to win). I love the place. I have a lot of friends here and I would love to get a victory to dedicate to all of them. I am going to try hard on the weekend.”
Like Jimenez, Molinari has also won twice this season with last week’s success at the Johnnie Walker Championship in Scotland being pivotal as it earned him a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup where his brother Francesco also made the team.
“I feel relaxed and have a lot of energy and confidence inside me and that’s why I am 11 under and could have been even better. I missed a few putts on the back nine but I cannot complain about being 11 under,” said Molinari, who sprinkled six birdies on his card.
The 17-year-old Manassero, who became the youngest winner of the British Amateur Championship last year and the youngest to make the cut at the Master Tournament in April, kept up his brave bid for the Omega European Masters title.
“It was a very difficult day for me. There was some pressure on me as I’ve never got into the lead in a Tour event. It wasn’t an easy day and I made four under par which is still a good score. I’m going to be close to the leader tomorrow and hopefully in the weekend,” said the overnight leader.
Noh know he has a lot of catching up to do over the weekend but enjoyed playing in the company of golf legend Norman, a former world number one and winner of 91 titles around the world, and Molinari.
“I had a lot of good experience playing with them. I’m happy,” said Noh. “I’ll keep working hard for the weekend rounds. Putting is difficult here as the greens are difficult. But it was better for me than yesterday. I had more confidence. It felt better.”
The Korean is determined to finish strongly on Sunday to preserve his slender lead atop the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit. Second ranked Marcus Fraser of Australia is one shot behind Noh.
Noh missed the cut last year at the stunning Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club, set amidst the Swiss Alps, but said he learned from his mistakes. “Because of the high altitude, you get a bit more distance than other courses. Last year, I didn’t know how to handle the distances and kept hitting every shot over the green. It’s much better this week. I just take put 10% more in my distances,” he said.