Golf’s Bold New World

While the men’s game has, in many ways, become tediously predictable in recent seasons, the Ladies European Tour offers a marked contrast: blossoming new talent, exotic horizons and a sparkle of sensuality… all with a rich Spanish flavour.

In 2012 Carlota Ciganda from Navarra became the first Ladies European Tour player since the irrepressible Laura Davies 27 years before to secure the LET Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season.

Last week, Lydia Ko, the world’s number one ranked amateur, won her third event as a professional, at 15 years, eight months and 17 days becoming the youngest LET champion, the first home winner of the New Zealand Open and the third amateur to win an LET title.

In between, Belén Mozo, who features on the promotional poster for this week’s Australian Open in Canberra, posed nude for ESPN Magazine.

Fellow Spaniards Ciganda, Beatriz Recari  and Marbella’s Azahara Muñoz (a winner on the US LPGA Tour in 2012) join her in the field at Royal Canberra Golf Club.

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Final Adios to a Golf Visionary

José María Olazábal, Jaime Ortiz-Patiño, George O’Grady and Ángel Gallardo (Photo: Getty Images)

It was July 1990, the British Open was being played at St. Andrews, and an earlier (and less bald) incarnation of OzinSpain was sipping a Scotch in the downstairs clubhouse lounge area set aside for press and players that week. (Those were the good old days when press and players cheerfully mingled – some even bought us drinks!)

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Jimenez named golfer of the month

The Spaniard made it a Hong Kong hat-trick with his one stroke win over Sweden’s Fredrik Andersson Hed, adding to the titles he won at Fanling in 2005 and 2008, and in doing so became the oldest winner in European Tour history at 48 years and 318 days, beating the previous record held by Irishman Des Smyth who was 48 years and 34 days when he won the 2001 Madeira Islands Open.

The Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Month Panel, which comprises members of the Association of Golf Writers as well as commentators from television and radio, faced arguably their toughest decision in the history of the award.

Indeed Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, whose stunning victory in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai completed his coronation as European Number One; Englishman Ian Poulter, who won his second World Golf Championship in style at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China; and Italian Matteo Manassero, who became the first teenager in European Tour history to win three times following his triumph in the Barclays Singapore Open, all earned votes from the panel in a lively debate.

Also recognised were; Luke Donald for his triumph in the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan; Martin Kaymer for his win in the Nedbank Golf Challenge; Graeme McDowell for his success in the World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual; and Henrik Stenson for his victory in the SA Open Championship, his first European Tour triumph for five years. But, in the end, it was Jiménez who held sway.

“When you look at the list of candidates for the November award it not only illustrates how hard a decision it was to make, but also just how healthy European Tour golf is at the moment,” said Michael Harris, the editor of Golf Monthly, and a member of the nine-strong panel.

“Every single one of them had a legitimate claim but in the end Miguel Angel Jiménez proved just too hard to resist. To win a tournament on The European Tour, given the growing standard out there, is hard enough at the best of times, but to do it at almost 49 years of age is remarkable.

“But Miguel is just that, remarkable. He is an entertainer and has such an infectious love of life and golf that I know a lot of people have been inspired to take up the game just by watching the fun he has on the course. His win in Hong Kong against a high-quality field was fantastic and, as a result, he is a worthy winner of the award for November.”

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.


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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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