AUGUSTA, Ga. — Miguel Angel Jimenez reminded everyone at the 78th Masters that the day is likely coming for a player older than 50.
Jimenez began Sunday’s final round two shots out of the lead at 3 under and carded a 1-under 71 at Augusta National Golf Club to finish alone in fourth at 4-under 284, four shots behind winner Bubba Watson.
It’s the second-best finish by a player in his 50s, behind only a tie for third by Sam Snead in 1963.
“It feels nice. I was playing very well, playing very solid all the week,” the 50-year-old Spaniard said. “Today my putting is a little bit too cold. It’s not enough putter. But I was playing very well, very solid from tee to flags.”
Jimenez had a historic Masters for the half-century crowd, as his 6-under 66 in Saturday’s third round matched the low Masters round for players over 50 previously set by Ben Hogan and Fred Couples. His 137 over the final two days broke the record for the final 36 holes by 50-and-over players of 138 shared by Jack Nicklaus and Couples.
Jimenez rallied on the back nine after he had already fallen out of contention with a 38 on the front, shooting a back-nine 33 with birdies on holes 10, 12, 14 and 16 and a bogey on the 11th.
Jimenez turned 50 in January and has played in eight European Tour events this season, including three World Golf Championship events and the Masters – all of which count as PGA Tour events as well. He won the UBS Hong Kong Open in December.
He’s teeing it up in his first Champions Tour event this week, the Greater Gwinnett Championship in Duluth, Ga. But with an eye on his fifth Ryder Cup, he’s not ready for the senior circuit full-time just yet.
“I’m going to play only next week,” he said. “I plan to focus myself for the Ryder Cup and then I need to play in the European Tour for that. If you don’t play over there you won’t have as good of chances. I would like to play on the Ryder Cup and I would like to help Europe defend the Ryder Cup.”
The other quinquagenarian with a chance to contend on Sunday, Couples, 54, teased the crowds at Augusta with birdies on his first two holes to quickly pull within two shots of the lead at 3 under.
Couples made a lengthy putt on the first hole and up-and-down birdie from a bunker on the par-5 second.
The 1992 Masters champion sustained the momentum through the front nine, holing a 20-foot par putt from off the sixth green in the midst of making seven consecutive pars to finish the front.
But he bogeyed 10, sandwiched a birdie on 14 between doubles on both 11 and bogeyed 17 to shoot a 41 on the back nine and tie for 20th at 2-over 290.
It’s his fifth consecutive top 20 in the Masters since turning 50, but first of those finishes outside the top 15.
Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer, 56, shot a 69 Sunday to rise into a tie for eighth at even-par 288.
“The Champions Tour is tough,” Couples said. “When you’re winning all the time, you stay on your feet and you feel like you’re doing well. Then when you come over here, it would be like winning the lottery for [Langer] or I to win this thing, but you never know.”
Jimenez obviously doesn’t put too much stock into being in incredible shape, but he goes through an unusual and seemingly worthless warm-up routine before rounds.
The 50-year-old from Spain puts his hands on his bent knees and moves them in a circular rotation, mildly twists his torso and rolls his wrists while holding an iron outstretched.
He acknowledges it’s a bit unorthodox and comical.
“Well, the fans like to see that,” Jimenez said. “That is a little funny what you see there. But it helps to move the joints, you know. Obviously the thing what you do, early in the morning, you do the proper exercise, and everything is going on in the back, what people cannot say. You know, at 50, it’s difficult to be here if you are not working out somehow. You need to be flexible and you need to be elastic and strong to be here.
“Probably it’s funny. Sometimes I’m looking at myself on video, and I’m laughing too. It’s nice, it’s bueno. But you know what is the main thing, I never get injured.”
Jimenez missed the 2013 Masters because of injury, but that was a broken leg from skiing, not golf-related damage.
Watson added a half-inch to his putter shaft this year and he said it has allowed him to putt much the way he hits the ball, relying on athletic ability and feel more than technique. He has improved from 116th last year to 28th this season in the PGA Tour’s total putting statistic to go along with his No. 1 ranking in driving distance.
More importantly, he has earned two of his six PGA Tour titles in the past two months.
“It made my hands more relaxed, more bent,” Watson said. “So it’s an athletic putting stroke now instead of me trying to guide the ball in the hole. … So after nine years of missing all of them, I’m starting to make a few.”
As a 20-year-old first-time participant in the Masters, Jordan Spieth didn’t want to take on Augusta National on his own this past week.
So the Spieth, who tied for second with Jonas Blixt, sought the advice of a few people who know the course well.
Fellow Texan and University of Texas alum Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion, has taken Spieth under his wing, and Crenshaw’s longtime Masters caddie Carl Jackson was of particular help.
“I told Michael I was going to buy a T-shirt for him that says, ‘Carl says,’ because he keeps saying that to me out there. So we’ll have to get that made,” Spieth said. “Mr. Crenshaw was very helpful. I had a little talk with Mr. [Jack] Nicklaus, and he helped me out – this was Wednesday evening at a dinner here.
“So those guys, which I think are pretty good guys to learn something about the golf course from, you know, have really helped.”
New bag man
After having his brother, Jay Haas Jr., as his caddie since he parted ways with Galivants Ferry native Michael Maness during the 2011 season, Haas hired former David Toms veteran caddie Scott Gneiser prior to the Masters.
“I needed to switch it up,” Haas said. “My brother has been on the bag a bunch for a few years, and I think I needed a change. He was available and has a major win. … I don’t think he can do anything but help me and I just like him. I was lucky that he was available the next few weeks.”
The duo looked like the perfect match after Haas shot a 68 to lead after the first round at Augusta National, and he eventually tied for 20th for the second consecutive year at 2-over 290 after rounds of 78, 74 and 70. The 20th matches Haas best Masters finish in five appearances.
To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page, @alanblondin, visit myrtlebeachonline.com.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.