Open de Andalucía flying high

3/23/2011 1:27:25 PM
 Miguel Angel Jimenez   (Getty Images)
Miguel Angel Jimenez (Getty Images)

With a new sponsor on board for 2011 and the continued backing of one of Spain’s most recognisable players, the future of the Open de Andalucía de Golf by Turkish Airlines appears to be soaring.

This week’s event is the tenth edition of the tournament and the fifth in a row since returning to The European Tour International Schedule in 2007, largely due to the persistence of Miguel Angel Jiménez, whose company Fade & Draw Target organises and promotes it.

The 18-time European Tour champion is an ever present in the event and fought ceaselessly to breathe new life into it after the tournament disappeared from the schedule following his victory in 1999.

Jiménez was a relative novice in 1992 when the inaugural Open de Andalucía was held at Parador de Málaga Golf under the name of Turespaña Masters Open de Andalucía.

Champion on that occasion was Vijay Singh, who would later go on to become World Number One, starting the tradition of high profile winners that Jiménez himself became part of in 1999.

The event remained part of The European Tour International Schedule for the next three years, with Scotland’s Andrew Oldcorn winning at Novo Sancti Petri, Englishman Carl Mason triumphing at Montecastillo and German Alex Cejka crowned champion at Islantilla in 1995.

The 1994 tournament will go down in history not only for providing Mason with his first  title after 21 years on The European Tour but also for the legendary Jack Nicklaus – the course designer – playing the two first rounds with Seve Ballesteros and Miguel Ángel Jiménez.

When Turespaña decided to support golf in other communities, the event was discontinued until 1999 when Parador de Málaga Golf, which had been revamped for the occasion, hosted the tournament.
The effort made by Paradores, Turespaña, and the Board of Andalucia, amongst other sponsors, to restore the event was amply rewarded when Jiménez became the first, and so far only, Spaniard to win the event.

Jiménez, a native of Malaga, was followed by thousands of fans from his first round, carding a winning score of 24 under par, including a course record 62 in the third round, to win by four strokes from Englishman Steve Webster.

Sadly that hugely popular victory was not enough to save the event’s immediate future and another sabbatical ensued, during which time Jiménez never gave up his dream of restoring the Open de Andalucía.

He fought relentlessly for “the land of golf to become a regular European Tour stop” and, with the joint support of Valle Romano and the Tourist, Commerce and Sports Board of Andalucia, he finally succeeded in saving the tournament and in 2007 he took it to Aloha Golf where it was held twice, producing two Ryder Cup players as champions in Englishman Lee Westwood, who like Singh would later go on to become World Number One, followed by Frenchman Thomas Levet.

The 2009 Open de Andalucía moved to the Real Club de Golf de Sevilla, where Denmark’s Søren Kjeldsen, recorded his second victory in Spanish soil, having won the 2008 Volvo Masters only five months earlier.

Last year the event returned for the third time to the Parador de Málaga Golf, where South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen took the title, four months before lifting the Claret Jug when he became Open Champion at the Home of Golf, St Andrews.

Oosthuizen’s career bloomed following his breakthrough victory 12 months ago, as the 28 year old also added the Africa Open title in January, and although injury prevents him from defending his Open de Andalucía title this week, the tournament will forever retain a special place in his heart.

The same can be said of its biggest supporter Jiménez, who will this week set out to become the only player to capture the trophy twice. After the support he has given the Open de Andalucía, you would struggle to find a more popular winner with the home crowd on Sunday night.