It was towards the end of 2003 and the Coast’s favourite golfing son, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, was mingling with guests at a presentation lunch in the La Quinta clubhouse.
He stopped to chat with a group of local journalists, including yours truly, who noted that the golfer’s 40th birthday was coming up (5 January) and made some jocular remark about getting old (he himself having passed the milestone several years before). Feigning indignation, Jiménez retorted, “Old? What do you mean – not at all!”, winked and moved on to a less incriminatory group.
Now, six years later, the man nicknamed The Mechanic”, because of his love of high-performance cars (including his own red Ferrari), has just racked up his 16th European Tour win, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, beating 2009 European number one Lee Westwood in a three-hole play-off. Incredibly, nine of those wins have been achieved since he turned 40.
His latest triumph also made him the oldest player to win on the Tour since Mark O’Meara was also victorious in Dubai in 2004, at 47. He moved to fourth on the order of merit, equalling his highest career end-of-season position: 2008; 2004, when he won four times; 1999, when he became the first and only Spaniard to win the Volvo Masters; and 1998.
“Like a good wine, with age, I get better and better,” he said after his first victory since the 2008 BMW PGA Championship – also his finest win to date.
“I feel comfortable on the golf course – that is key. I am not 25 or 30, I have just turned 46, but I’m still healthy and still strong. Not like I was when I was 25, but still strong and I can still play the ball. And, if I feel happy and can focus, then you can win.”
One of the game’s most flamboyant characters, with his ponytail and love of fine wines, hearty Spanish cuisine and Havana cigars, he is now in his 22nd year on the Tour.