Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez vaulted to the top of the Volvo Order of Merit and into second place on the European Ryder Cup Points List after edging out Thomas Björn of Denmark to win the Johnnie Walker Classic at Alpine Golf & Sports Club in Bangkok, Thailand.
Jiménez thoroughly deserved the king-size cigar he lit up after securing a two shot victory with a closing round of 68 for a 17 under par total of 271. Proving the old adage that life begins at 40, Jiménez, who reached that milestone at the start of the month, prevailed by two strokes from Björn and Jyoti Randhawa of India.
The eighth success on The European Tour International Schedule on his 355th start earned Jiménez €240,580 (£166,660) and lifted his total winnings for the new season to €247,061 (£171,150) while his prospects of repeating his 1999 Ryder Cup appearance increase significantly as he moved in behind Lee Westwood of England on that particular listing with 760,915 points.
Björn, who had led since early on the first day with an opening 64, experienced problems over the closing stretch and two visits to water resulted in damaging bogey sixes. Having been one ahead with five to play, and level after 70 holes, the Dane ultimately lost the tournament at the 71st hole with a bogey to a birdie by the Spaniard.
That two stroke advantage proved decisive, while Randhawa closed with a 64 to share second on 273, a shot ahead of six players including reigning US PGA Champion, Shaun Micheel of the United States.
Jiménez, the tenth different winner of the Johnnie Walker Classic in 12 editions of the tournament, savoured the moment and found time to chuckle with amusement at the recent proliferation of pony tails in the world of sport.
One week after Germany’s Marcel Siem captured the dunhill championship in South Africa sporting tied back locks, and on the day that Swiss tennis player, Roger Federer, lifted the Australian Open title, Jiménez showed no sign of reaching for a pair of scissors.
He said: “Two years ago I decided to let my hair grow and I try to be a little different on the Tour. It’s a kind of fashion statement in a place where everyone has the same haircut and the same everything. I did have a skin problem in the past and originally I grew it long to cover my ears after surgery.”
Like Samson with his flowing locks, Jiménez showed he had ample strength in the energy-sapping humidity to emerge triumphant. He made his most decisive move just before the turn with an eagle at the seventh followed by two successive birdies. That propelled him into the lead, and although the lead fluctuated on the back nine, Jiménez did enough to claim his second win on his last six starts.
Björn sportingly acknowledged the brilliance of his playing partner’s golf and commented: “On the front nine Miguel played golf like I’ve not seen for many years. Magnificent. Really, really, magnificent. It was out of this world and you could tell how much it meant to him. He’s tough and would be a good guy to have on the Ryder Cup Team.”
The Spaniard countered: “The Ryder Cup is in September and this is February. I am going to concentrate on my next tournament in Dubai. You can’t think about what’s going to happen. You have to focus on the moment.”
He agreed with Björn’s assessment of his game, adding: “I played great all through the last round. I had lots of chances for birdies and took a few of them. Thomas also played well but made some mistakes on the par fives.”
Twice in 2003 Björn lost out in play-offs and well as finishing runner-up to American Ben Curtis in the Open Golf Championship. He said ruefully: “Over the last 16 months I’ve let a few tournaments slip through my hands. I am disappointed, and I am getting good at disappointment at the moment. The tournament was there to be won today.”
Randhawa’s 64 equalled the Dane’s opening effort and he admitted he was surprised with his finishing position after taking a month off without touching his clubs. “Maybe I need to rest more often in order to play good golf” he said.
Defending champion, Ernie Els of South Africa, seemed to be in ‘slumber mode’ until reeling off five successive birdies for a final round of 69 and a share of tenth place on 275. Of the two current Major Champions in the field, Curtis tied for 53rd with Micheel sharing fourth.