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The Secret… Rioja and Olive Oil

(Photo: Getty Images)

It’s now official: Miguel Ángel Jiménez is the oldest winner on the European Tour. It took two years after his last win (Omega European Masters in Switzerland) but, with 11 of his 18 Tout titles having come since turning 40, few were surprised when the 48-year-old Málaga-born star triumphed in the UBS Hong Kong Open. It was his third victory in the event (following 2005 and 2008) and meant he was six months older than Des Smith when the Irishman won the 2001 Madeira Islands Open.

“It’s very nice – I hope it’s not the last one,” joked the Spaniard, who carded a closing five-under 65, for a 15-under total at Hong Kong Golf Club and a one-shot victory over 40-year-old Swede Fredrik Andersson Hed, who had made 14 trips to the Qualifying School before winning his first (and to date only) European Tour title in Italy two years ago.

“I really love this place. I love the golf course – it’s a great golf course where you have to control the ball very well, it’s not a matter of distance,” said Jiménez, who did not card a single bogey over the last three rounds (and just two in 72 holes, with 17 birdies).

Rafael Cabrera-Bello in Dubai (Photo: Getty Images)

Asked about the secret of his longevity (this was his 597th Tour start), he said, “This is maybe the olive oil in my joints, and the nice Rioja wine and those things keep you fit and flexible, no? The most important thing, I do what I like to do in my life, and golf has given me all of this pleasure. Winning now, as you say, the oldest winner on the Tour, 48, my goodness, 24 years I’ve been on the Tour – I’ve been around.

“I still love it and I think that is fantastic, to love what you’re doing, and enjoy yourself, keep fit, keep working myself a little bit and stretching a lot, and that’s the main thing to keep the body to compete with the new guns.”

The win extended his own record for most victories by a player aged 40 and over (12 of 19 overall); created a new record for European Tour victories on Asian soil (six, passing Ernie Els’ previously shared best of five); was the third by a Spaniard in 2012 following Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Omega Dubai Desert Classic) and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño (BMW Italian Open presented by CartaSi); and was the 166th Spanish victory in European Tour history.

 


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Chip Shots

Crocodile Men

Confirming he had accepted an invitation to compete in the Hong Kong Open in Shanghai in November, 2012 Ryder Cup captain José María Olazábal noted that the final of the Lacoste Promesas final – bringing together 20 of Spain’s most talented young golfers – would be postponed to 30 November. In addition to the tournament, the finalists will have the opportunity of training with Olazábal, Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Ignacio Garrido at La Sella Golf Resort in Alicante.

Next Mission: Main Tour

A man clearly in form after his third place in the 2012 Open de Andalucía, Eduardo de la Riva secured his first European Challenge Tour victory with a flawless final round of six-under 65 in the Fred Olsen Challenge de España at Tecina Golf in La Gomera (Canary Isles).

“I felt very comfortable out there, especially with my putter. I started playing with it last week where I had two bad rounds but was not the putter’s fault. This one is going to stay in my bag for a while. After so many years with belly and long putters now I feel I am a better player with the regular one.

“I’m not sure of my schedule now. I have been diagnosed with two disk protrusions in my back and I have to treat them, and then I will decide. My goal has always been the European Tour. Since I got the card nine years ago I have grown up as a player, as a person and in every sense. Now everything is going perfect and I want to play. I made the right fitness preparation and it has worked. I have been close to a win on the main tour a couple of times lately. I know I can trust on my game and trust myself; I just have to hole the putts the way I did today.”

Spanish Fiesta Continues

Just two weeks after winning the first European Senior Tour event of the year (see below “Mallorca Launch for Seniors”), Gary Wolstenholme made it a Spanish double with victory in the Benahavís Senior Masters at La Quinta (Marbella).

“It’s just brilliant,” said the 2011 Rookie of the Year. “Obviously I’m delighted. I had five months off and I had no idea what I was going to come out with this season but to win the two events in Spain and make the cut in America (at the US Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid), having shot a 79 in the first round, is more than I could have possibly predicted… I’m pleased I got things going so early in the season and we have a great run of tournaments now and it’s up to me to continue doing what I know I can do.”

Mark James and Mark Mouland shared second place one stroke behind Wolstenholme, while Australian Mike Harwood was joint fourth with Barry Lane. One week after becoming the first Englishman to win the US Senior PGA Championship (first of this year’s majors on the US Champions Tour), Roger Chapman finished 20th at La Quinta.

Azahara Breakthrough

It was controversial – a dubious slow play ruling and alleged grounded putter in the morning semi-final – but Marbella-born Azahara Muñoz finally broke through for her first US LPGA Tour win, beating Candie Kung in the final of the Sybase Match Play Championship in New Jersey. Muñoz, who won the 2009 Madrid Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour in her first start as a pro and was the 2010 LPGA Rookie of the Year, thus became only the second Spaniard after Marta Figueras-Dotti (1994) and Beatriz Recari (2010) to win on the US tour.

Mallorca Launch for Round-Bellies

Gary Wolstenholme might consider buying a lottery ticket featuring the number two. England’s most capped amateur before turning professional in 2008 at 48, he made European Senior Tour debut two years later and won the Casa Serena Open in the Czech Republic in his second start. He had to wait another two years for his second Tour win, the 2012 Mallorca Open Senior, at Pula Golf.

Wolstenholme’s final-round 69 gave him a two-stroke win over second-placed South African Chris Williams, Australia’s Mike Harwood and Englishman Paul Wesselingh in this opening event of the 2012 European Senior Tour season. Australian Peter Fowler, attempting to become the first player since Sam Torrance in 2006 to retain the John Jacobs Trophy as order of merit leader, finished 16th, while Spaniard Miguel Angel Martin, the three-time European Tour winner who celebrated his 50th birthday on the Wednesday, was 34th.

Dream Debut

(Photo: Fernando Herranz)

Milan-born Alessandra Averna won her first title in her professional debut, beating joint second-placed Spaniards Laura Cabanillas and Raquel Carriedo by two shots in the opening event of the 2012 Banesto Tour in Málaga. “I’m very, very happy,” said the 23-year-old. “I came to the Parador – a real paradise with beach and golf! – without any expectations and I’m returning home with the trophy. It’s an incredible sensation… Funnily enough, I picked up my first golf club when I was three, also here in Málaga (province), at Guadalmina, where we used to come for our family holidays.”

Spanish Crown for Englishman

Young English golfer Jack Hiluta defeated German rival Marcel Schneider 4&3 in the 36-hole final of the Spanish Amateur International event played at Mallorca’s Alcanada Golf. One of Europe’s most prestigious competitions, dating to 1911, the King’s Cup has previously been won by such luminaries as José María Olazábal, Darren Clarke, Sergio García and Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño.

Women Power

(Photo: ElMarcoRojo)

(Photo: ElMarcoRojo)

The fourth season of the Banesto Premium Tour was launched at Málaga’s Parador course – as reigning World Cup football champions Spain blitzed Venezuala 5-0 just down the road at the La Rosaleda stadium in an international friendly. This year’s tour, open to Spanish and foreign women professionals and invited amateurs, comprises seven events between March and November, held throughout Spain.

(Photo: Rafa Cabrera)

The Parador tournament was preceded by a “closest to the pin” competition among the press covering the event, with each journalist paired with a pro. After an entertaining repertoire of diverse shot-making, the prize was won by Laura Cabanillas (a winner in each of the three previous seasons, including 2009 at the Parador) and Golflog cameraman Arturo Caballero. The other two professional participants were Itziar Elguezábal and Mireia Prat.

 Aloha from Marbella

(Photo: Jorge Andréu)

Former British Open champion (1999) Paul Lawrie will return to the Costa del Sol from 15 to 18 March to defend the Open de Andalucía title he won last year at Málaga’s Parador course. Colin Montgomerie and his successor as Ryder Cup captain José María Olazábal have also confirmed their presence in the 2012 European Tour event, which returns to Aloha (where Lee Westwood and Thomas Levet won in 2007 and 2008, respectively). The tournament is hosted, promoted and organised by 18-time Tour champion Miguel Ángel Jiménez’s MAJ Group.

Senior Moments

Juan Quirós

The Benahavís Senior Masters returns to La Quinta Golf for a fourth consecutive year, but moves to an earlier date: 1-3 June. Englishman Carl Mason won the inaugural event in 2009 and last year (for his record 25th European Senior Tour title), while Thailand’s Boonchu Ruangkit was victorious in 2010.

Meanwhile, European Senior Tour star Juan Quirós has indicated he will be supporting the Gecko Winter Pro Tour in southern Spain. “Set up by professional golfers for professional golfers”, the fledgling circuit runs from September to April with a 36-hole event every week.

Spanish Hat-Trick

(Photo: Getty Images)

Twenty-seven-year-old Rafael Cabrera-Bello made it a Spanish triple when he held off the challenge of Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy to win the 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February. It was his second European Tour victory after the 2009 Austrian Golf Open and followed Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Álvaro Quirós’s victories in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Masterful Comeback

(Photos: Volvo in Golf)

(Photos: Volvo in Golf)

Two-times US Masters champion José María Olazábal showed he still had the skills to compete at the top level when he led his other four Spaniards colleagues home in the Volvo Golf Champions event in South Africa in January. Olazábal, who has been unable to play a full schedule in recent years due to injury, finished joint sixth four shots behind the winner Branden  Grace, while Miguel Ángel Jiménez was 24th, Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño 26th, Pablo Larrazábal 32nd and Pablo Martín 34th.

TOUR EVENTS IN SPAIN
 


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Royal Seal of Approval

Spain’s King Juan Carlos was presented with a European team replica polo shirt from the 2012 Ryder Cup’s “Miracle Sunday” when he received the three Spanish members of the triumphant team for a private audience at the Palacio de la Zarzuela. Joining the monarch for a 40-minute chat about the event were captain José María Olazábal, vice captain Miguel Ángel Jiménez (also a vice captain at Valderrama in 1997, when Juan Carlos officially inaugurated the Cup match eventually won by captain Seve Ballesteros’s European team) and the only Spaniard who made the team in Chicago, Sergio García.

(Photo reprinted courtesy of Royal Household)


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Another Ryder Cup… Whatever

OzinSpain has been mildly disparaging about the Ryder Cup in the past (Ryder Hype Runneth Over), arguing that it might be über-significant for US and European players and fans but considerably less so for the overwhelming 90 per cent majority of the rest of the world: i.e. Africa, Asia, South America, Oceania and all the Americas apart from the US.

Bottom line: all the puff that the Ryder Cup is the third most mind-boggling sports event in the world (after the Olympics and soccer World Cup) is just as nonsensical as saying Herman Van Rompuy is the most powerful political leader in Europe. Or Mitt Romney is a bleeding heart liberal. Or Sergio García and Tiger Woods are really adorable chaps when you actually get to know them.

Little has changed for the 2012 version, even the impressive fact that nine out of the 10 top-ranked golfers in the world are teeing up at Medinah – actually the same as in 2010 in Wales.

Nevertheless, ever-magnanimous, we are happy to note that the 2012 Cup showdown will unquestionably be another enthralling golf contest. Ample coverage can be found elsewhere but here is a selection of our favourite images over Cup week…

(Photos: Getty Images)
 


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Island Paradise for Aussies

Stacey Keating celebrates with caddie/boyfriend Darren Peters

Australian Nikki Garrett made a scorching start to the 2012 Tenerife Open de España Femenino but it was compatriot Stacey Keating who eventually left Golf Las Américas with the main silverware.

Garrett, the Ladies European Tour’s 2006 rookie of the year, opened with a bogey-free career-best eight-under 64 to take a three-shot lead. It came as no surprise that 28-year-old from Gosford (New South Wales) was quick out of the blocks in the premier event on the Spanish women’s golf calendar. She won the 2007 Tenerife Ladies Open at Golf Del Sur and the Open de España Femenino at Country Club Mediterráneo in Castellón the following week. She also tied for second behind Becky Brewerton in a non-official Ladies European Tour matchplay event at Golf Las Américas last June.

Halfway leader Nikki Garrett

“I love Tenerife; I love Spain.  I had both my wins in Tenerife, Spain, so it feels a lot like home. I’m always very relaxed when I play in this part of the world.”

The next day she scrambled to a 73 but still retained a one-stroke lead for the weekend. On the Saturday she slipped with a 74 and relinquished the lead to German Caroline Masson, as Keating – the number one ranked female Australian amateur in 2010 (Garrett achieved the same honour in 2005) – moved into second place one stroke back.

On the final day, Masson and Keating finished level on nine-under 279 before the Australian birdied the first extra hole for her first LET victory in just her second season on the tour.

Later, the 26-year-old from Ballarat (Victoria) said victory would make amends for the huge disappointment of the previous week when she was disqualified from the Ricoh Women’s British Open for signing for an incorrect score when lying in a tie for 32nd place.

“I’ve probably had the worst week of my life and the best week of my life in two weeks. It was very disappointing last week but this makes up for it, I can tell you. It will be all forgotten, last week.” She paid tribute to her caddie, Darren Peters (who is also her boyfriend), and the support of mentor Karrie Webb.

“After the disappointment of last week she’s been great. Her and Karen Lunn, I have to mention her as well. They’ve been unbelievable. I don’t like to say, the veterans out here, but they’ve been great and they really have helped me, and Kaz has been great out here this week.”

Veteran Trish Johnson finished third, one stroke out of the play-off, and Garrett closed with a 70 to end up fourth; while Carlota Ciganda and Tania Elosegui were the leading Spanish players, in a four-way share of fifth place with Esther Choe and Lee-Anne Pace.


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Gonzo Golf Prevails in Italy

The new champion and his wife Alicia Carriles (Photo: Getty Images)

Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño was one of four high-ranked Spaniards hoping to make his Ryder Cup debut this year. In the end he, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Álvaro Quíros and Pablo Larrazábal fell short in the qualification process – and failed to gain a wild-card selection from captain José María Olazábal to join the only Spaniard in the 2012 team, Sergio García (Miguel Ángel Jimñénez is also one of Chema’s vice-captains).

However, some consolation came for the amiable 2005 European Tour rookie of the year when he won the Italian Open one week before the 12 European Ryder Cup players head to Illinois to defend the title won in Wales two years ago. It was the 31-year-old Madrid star’s sixth victory on the Tour (he also won the 2007 Italian Open).

“Not making the Ryder Cup was disappointing,” he said. “I had a victory, two second-placed finishes and one third, and it hasn’t been good enough. It’s tough.

“You have to play well in the big events, and that’s what I didn’t do this year unfortunately. I have talked to Olly about the Ryder Cup many, many times. I can laugh about it now but it hasn’t been easy.

“I just needed to believe in myself and put the Ryder Cup out of my head, which I’ve done this week. I changed my schedule a little – I normally travel on a Tuesday but I arrived here on Wednesday, mainly because I wanted to see the kids start school.”

 


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End of Era at Valderrama?

Junta in hot water with European Tour… Sergio García on the way to victory in 2011 (Photo: Fernando Herranz)

By Pedro Bolichero

Valderrama’s pre-eminent role on the Spanish golfing scene could have come to an undignified end after the effectively 11th hour cancellation of the third edition of the Andalucía Masters, due to be held from 18 to 21 October.

The decision was expected after the Socialist Party was forced into coalition with the Izquierda Unida (United Left) party following regional elections in March, and one of its members (Rafael Rodríguez Bermúdez) became the new minister for tourism and commerce and implied there would be new budgetary priorities: i.e. not major investments focused on just one golf event. (It is understood the Junta’s investment in the tournament totalled €3 million.)

Graeme McDowell won the first Andalucía Valderrama Masters in 2010 (Photo: Golffoto)

The dire financial situation in Andalucía, as in the rest of the country, would also have had a significant influence on the Junta de Andalucía’s decision but none of that appeased the European Tour – peeved more than anything else about the late timing of the announcement.

In a statement, the tour noted, “The Junta de Andalucía confirmed this decision by letter, which they also announced by a press release on Monday 10 September. Despite discussions with the Royal Spanish Golf Federation, and a formal legal agreement with the Junta de Andalucía, the tournament, won in 2011 by Sergio García, will not take place.”

Tour executive director George O’Grady added, ”This is extremely disappointing news to receive, especially at such a late date. We have been long-term partners with the Junta for over 25 years. In that time we have been together with many other events: the Volvo Masters staged in Andalucía from 1988-2008, two American Express World Golf Championships, won by Tiger Woods in 1999 and Mike Weir in 2000, and the jewel in the crown, the 1997 Ryder Cup played at Club de Golf Valderrama. We have worked together to promote the region, and the Junta de Andalucía and the European Tour have enjoyed an exceptionally strong and committed long-term partnership.

Valderrama’s iconic 17th

“We feel the disappointment not only for our members and all committed to broadcasting and reporting this tournament and the region on a global scale, but also for the many visitors, especially from northern Europe, who coincide their vacations with the tournament.

“We will work with the Junta to rectify this situation both now and in the future”.

With Valderrama’s new membership and management committee seemingly less enthusiastic about hosting major events, the 2011 Andalucía Masters – when Sergio García became the first Spaniard to win a tour event at Valderrama – could be the club’s swansong on the international stage, at least at the same level.


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