GULLANE, Scotland – Miguel Angel Jimenez looked like the only guy who was having fun.
On a punishing day at Muirfield — the course with a reputation as the fairest links of them all — leave it to a 49-year-old Spaniard who enjoys the simple pleasures in life to make such a demanding test at the British Open seem like just another round of golf.
There was calamity all around him Friday.
Zach Johnson lost the lead with a three-putt from 10 feet. Brandt Snedeker, regarded as one of the best putters in golf, took four putts from 15 feet. Tiger Woods played well enough to be only one shot behind but rarely smiled.
Jimenez, with his frizzy red hair bunched into a ponytail, made his way around Muirfield with only two bogeys for an even-par 71 that gave him a one-shot lead over Woods, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson going into the weekend.
What’s a 49-year-old doing with the 36-hole lead at the British Open?
“Why? I have not the right to do it? Only the young people can do it?” Jimenez said. “Why? I’m fine. We keep playing golf and still get myself on the golf course, and that’s the secret. Enjoy yourself what you do in life. That’s what I’m doing.”
For so many others, it was tough to enjoy anything about a course that brought the easterly wind for the first time all week, and greens that hit warp speed even after tournament officials hand-watered the putting surfaces overnight.
Woods went 12 holes without a birdie, saving his round with a collection of tough pars, and he finished with a 6-iron from 212 yards to 15 feet for a birdie and a 71. Westwood matched the best round of the day with a 68, while Stenson had a 70. Both of them had a double bogey on their cards. Dustin Johnson got himself into such a predicament on the 15th that his only option from a bunker was to aim sideways into the rough. He shot 72.
“Every hole is playing hard,” Dustin Johnson said. “You don’t get any breaks. You’ve really got to grind it out. It’s tough off the tee. It’s tough on your approach shot and it’s tough putting.”
Phil Mickelson was in range of the lead until a four-putt on the 16th hole, his second double bogey of the day. That was one hole after Mickelson made a par putt that would have gone 15 feet by if he had missed.
Zach Johnson couldn’t think of too many poor shots he hit in the blazing sun, except maybe for a wedge he punched from 158 yards that bounded over the back of the 15th green. He chipped to 10 feet and took three putts from there for a double bogey, and he dropped one more shot on the final hole for a 75.
“I enjoy difficult tests,” said Johnson, who won the 2007 Masters in the toughest conditions at Augusta in more than 50 years. “I think everyone does. ‘Fun’ … you’ve got to use that term loosely. What’s fun about it is that we don’t see this but once a year.”
The reference was to links golf, though such brown, brittle conditions have not been seen at the Open since Hoylake in 2006, and the greens there weren’t nearly that quick.
Jimenez, who was at 3-under 139, has his own definition of fun.
“Sometimes you can see me serious because of a situation, but having fun doesn’t mean that you are falling on the ground and start laughing,” he said.
What about leading the British Open, with a chance at 49 to be the oldest major champion in golf history?
“Then you put the smile on the face,” he said.
If he cared to look behind him, Jimenez might have reason to be concerned.
The biggest name was Woods, who has been steering his way around Muirfield with mainly irons that go forever on the rock-hard fairways.
“There will be no surprise to me if he’s picking up the claret jug on Sunday,” said Graeme McDowell, who played with Woods and was seven shots behind.
Westwood surged to the top of the leaderboard with a 31 on the front nine and one more birdie at the 12th, but he dropped three shots on the last six holes.
“Why not enjoy it out there?” Westwood said. “It’s tough for everybody. So smile your way through.”