Miguel Angel Jiménez remains on course for a fifth title on The 2004 European Tour International Schedule and second in as many weeks as he takes a one stroke lead over his Ryder Cup team mates Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia into the final round of the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club.
Spain’s greatest ever golfer Seve Ballesteros holds to the record of six Volvo Order of Merit titles in one season but his compatriot Jiménez is closing in on the record with another towering display among the splendour of the Swiss Alps. Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood have also won six titles, five Volvo Order of Merit counting events in addition to the HSBC World Match Play Championship.
Victory in last week’s BMW International Open was preceded by wins in the Johnnie Walker Classic, the Algarve Open de Portugal Caixa Geral de Depositos and the BMW Asian Open this year, making him comfortably the season’s most prolific winner.
A five under par 66 took Jiménez to 15 under par with England’s Donald, picked last week by Bernhard Langer for the European Ryder Cup Team, producing the best round of the day, a 65, despite bogeying the last, to lie alongside Garcia on 14 under par.
Defending champion Ernie Els is in the group three strokes further back on 11 under par after a five under par 66 along with Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, Australian Craig Spence and the evergreen Eduardo Romero of Argentina.
Jiménez is playing his fifth week in a row but brushed asides concerns that he needs to rest before taking on the Americans in The 35th Ryder Cup Matches at Oakland Hills in a fortnight.
“I am feeling strong, I am feeling fine,” said the 40 year old. “And when you play here in the mountains you get better fitness. Then when you get to the sea level you feel wow, like a rock. I am fine.
“I am playing well and these are good tournaments. My family is here and I am having a great time here. Nice and relaxed. Just hit a few balls as warm up in the morning, play 18 holes, have a few putts with my kids around the putting green. It sounds like a holiday. When you are on holiday you make a good profit as well, it is nice.”
The final three ball will comprise the three Ryder Cup players in action this week with Donald chasing his second title on The European Tour in little more than a month while Garcia is looking to add a European Tour title to his two victories on the US PGA Tour this year.
All of which will be pleasing news for European Captain Bernhard Langer with so many of his team brimming with confidence.
For Donald the key to his round was the par fives, five under par for the four long holes including an eagle on the 14th when he holed a 50 foot putt. The only blemish was a bogey on the last when his pitch took a hard bounce and flew through the green.
“I am right where I need to be,” said Donald. “I probably need to shoot another round as good as I did today. There are a lot of birdies out there. People are becoming more and more comfortable with the golf course, which greens are firm and which are soft. I am just going to have to keep playing as I have been playing but looking forward to it.”
Garcia looked to be running away from the pack after starting with an eagle three and three more birdies in the front nine of 32 with just the one dropped shot. But three bogeys in five holes after the turn left him trailing Jiménez before two late birdies put him very much back in touch, setting the scene for a thrilling final day showdown at Crans Montana.