x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

For Jimenez, continent comes first

The Spaniard skipped his nephew's wedding to better his Ryder Cup chances, and rightly so, Gary Meenaghan writes.

Miguel Angel Jimenez put family obligations on the back burner in an effort to qualify for the Ryder Cup.
Miguel Angel Jimenez put family obligations on the back burner in an effort to qualify for the Ryder Cup.

A few weeks ago, as Miguel Angel Jimenez flew back to Malaga from the Czech Open where he had finished tied for seventh place, he realised he was in a difficult position. He occupied the ninth spot for automatic selection into Europe's Ryder Cup team, but while his nearest continental rivals were preparing to play the Johnnie Walker Championship the following week, Jimenez was planning to attend his nephew's wedding.

Big problem: if the Spaniard failed to compete at Gleneagles, he could be leap-frogged out of contention and have to rely on Colin Montgomerie, Europe's captain, handing him a wild card. It would be a gift about as forthcoming as a Monty smile when photographers are caught taking snaps on his backswing. With the 46-year-old Jimenez aware that his dream of making a fourth Ryder Cup team could disappear in a puff of smoke, he sent Sarah Phillips, his agent, a text message informing her he was heading to Scotland.

His family would have to take a back seat. It was a calculated decision and, undoubtedly, Jimenez justified it. He finished third on his Johnnie Walker debut, securing ?87,500 (Dh405, 935) and a spot in Montgomerie's side for Celtic Manor, Wales, next month. He then followed up the success last weekend with his 18th European Tour title after winning the European Masters in Crans-sur-Sierre in Switzerland, where he ended the Sunday with a four-under par 67 to reach 21-under.

The victory was his third title of the season after success in Paris and that thrilling twilight play-off in Dubai. And it means Jimenez, only one year younger than Montgomerie and a quarter of a century older than Europe's youngest team member, Rory McIlroy, has now won 11 of his 18 titles since turning 40. As he joked with journalists at the Emirates Golf Club in February, he is a player who is getting better with age.

Such successes are a harsh contrast to that of his countryman Sergio Garcia, with whom Jimenez was paired on the opening afternoon of the 2008 Ryder Cup, and whose game has regressed so much that his recent decision to take a break only served to confuse armchair fans who had assumed he had left the game the best part of two years ago. At 19, Garcia had become the youngest golfer to play at the biennial event and has been involved in every tournament since 1999. Now 30 years old, he has endured a dismal season.

Having failed to qualify for this year's Ryder Cup he has effectively gone from effervescent ever-present to - courtesy of a sympathetic Montgomerie - a non-playing vice- captain. Montgomerie's decision may yet, however, prove a masterstroke. By selecting Garcia to be a vice-captain, he is handing the Spaniard a chance to rejuvenate himself and enjoy the matchplay event without the pressure to perform that he is clearly feeling.

Meanwhile, a player who has played in five previous Ryder Cups is never going to be ignored when giving advice - regardless of the fact he has not won a title since November 2008. There are six Ryder Cup rookies in Montgomerie's 12-man team; a team which now boasts five players who have all won tournaments in the past month, including Martin Kaymer, the Ryder Cup rookie who triumphed at the PGA Championships as Garcia dished out a dose of grievous bodily harm on a bunker.

Regardless of the Spaniard's ill temperament that day, all six debutantes will be well aware that with Garcia comes experience. They may also think twice about answering back if there is a sand-wedge nearby. Paul Casey and Justin Rose could have been given wild cards by Montgomerie, but it would have been a struggle to argue they deserved them, after skipping Gleneagles. However, the inclusion of Padraig Harrington, who has failed to win a tournament for more than two years, will continue to baffle. But Jimenez, ranked eighth in the Race to Dubai, is undoubtedly there on merit.

Here is a man who stood up at the start of the season and proclaimed that he would do his best "every week to be part of that team and defend Europe". Twenty-two tournaments in 32 weeks, spanning the globe from Abu Dhabi to Arizona, the tireless Spaniard has unreservedly fulfilled his promise. Others have not, and have instead rightly been accused of putting coinage before continent. Such a charge must never be levelled against Jimenez.

For in the career of the charismatic Andaulsian, not even family comes before the opportunity to represent at the Ryder Cup. @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae