Consider Miguel Angel Jimenez the de facto defending champion this week at the Constellation Furyk & Friends.
With last year's winner Phil Mickelson on suspension after jumping to the LIV Golf Tour, Jimenez is the top finisher from the inaugural Furyk & Friends to return to the Timuquana Country Club. He was the runner-up to Mickelson, two shots behind the winning score of 15-under-par 201, but put the pressure on all weekend after a pedestrian 70 in the first round.
Jimenez played his final 47 holes bogey-free and his second-round 65 tied John Daly's closing score for the low round of the tournament.
"It's nice to be back here," the 58-year-old native of Spain said during a news conference on Wednesday. "It's a beautiful golf course ... firm and fast, very nice."
Jimenez is having another solid season, tying four other players for first with three victories. He enters the week fifth on the Charles Schwab Cup race and has earned $1,896,413, with 12 top-10s in 18 starts. He's been outside the top-20 only three times and now has 13 PGA Tour Champions titles, and 39 worldwide.
Jimenez was in the hunt in three of the Champions Tour majors, with a tie for third at the Regions Tradition, a tie for fourth at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and a tie for seventh at the U.S. Senior Open.
Jimenez loves Timuquana's challenges
Jimenez likes to keep life interesting, to say the least, and the subtleties of the historic Donald Ross course make him eager to get to the first tee on Friday at 11:45 a.m., where he will play with Ernie Els and Stephen Ames.
"It's not that long, but you need to put the ball always in position," he said of Timuquana. "This bermudagrass you have all over the golf course ... you need to be in the fairway. If you miss the fairway [it's] going to [be] almost impossible to stop the ball on these greens. You need to be very precise with all your clubs."
Jimenez said the Champions Tour doesn't get many challenges as Timuquana every week.
"It's quite different because every week we play [soft] greens that are different kind of grass that you can hold better," he said. "The way the golf course is set up, you need to be nice and sharp and precise. A little bit different with the other golf courses."
Working hard to stay relevant
The affable, carefree Jimenez, with his distinctive long, curly hair and quick wit, has been called "Golf's most interesting man." He has an affinity for fast cars, fine wine, cigars and a good steak but he's a grinder on the golf course, rivaling the seemingly ageless Bernhard Langer for staying in shape and collecting trophies the older he gets.
Fans enjoy his exotic pre-round stretching almost as much as his booming drives and deft short game.
"I [get] more exercise in the last 15 years than ever," he said. "It's very important to work out ... flexibility is very important. The older we get, the more we need to working, especially flexibility. That helps a lot to maintain myself, my status."
However, Jimenez, who has a self-deprecating streak to him, refuses to put himself in the same class at the 65-year-old Langer, who is two victories short of Hale Irwin's all-time Champions Tour record of 45.
"I'm nothing special," he said with a smile. "Bernard's the same the last 45, the last 50 years. He's never changed; he looks the same. It's just a number, age."
'He's part alien'
Notah Begay III said Jimenez is being a bit modest.
"I think he's part alien ... he's got some alien DNA in there that just keeps him supple and moving well," Begay said. "The fluidity in his swing hasn't changed in decades. You have to give him and Bernhard a tremendous amount of credit for staying relevant, staying competitive. Professional sports is very quick to push out any athlete that isn't up to standard and those guys have really proven themselves to have some secret recipe. Maybe they both know where the Fountain of Youth is."
Padraig Harrington said Jimenez is still smashing the ball at his pre-50-year-old level.
"Of all the [Champions Tour] players out here, I think he's the one who hits it as hard as he did eight years ago," Harrington said. "He's 165 [mph] ball speed, which is pretty long and he's pushing himself."
Jimenez said his drive to keep playing at a high level stems more from the inner passion he feels for golf just as much as his physical conditioning and work ethic.
"I love the game of golf and I work on my game on the range and still spend a lot of time there," he said. "I don't know if it's the same amount as before, but I spend a lot of time on the driving range and working, practice putting. This is my life; this is what I want to do."
He said he's ready for a stretch run on the Champions Tour. There are two regular-season events before the three-tournament Schwab Cup Playoffs.
"I feel good ... I've been hitting good all year round, playing very well, many top-10s," he said. "Five more tournaments to finish the season and I'm going to do my best on all these to finish up."
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Miguel Angel Jimenez, golf's most interesting man, still hungry to win