Andalucia Open host Jimenez one off halfway lead held by de la Riva

Miguel Angel Jimenez at the Andalucia Open
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Tournamet host Miguel Angel Jimenez, at age 48, is vying to become the oldest winner in European Tour history.
By
PA Sport

Series: European Tour

Published: Friday, March 16, 2012 | 3:46 p.m.

Miguel Angel Jimenez has hopes of becoming the European Tour's oldest-ever winner this weekend -- thanks to the circuit's youngest-ever winner throwing the Andalucia Open wide open on Friday.

Eighteen-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero held a three-stroke lead after his course record-tying opening round of 64 at Aloha Golf Club, but managed only a 73 on his return.

Jimenez, who is also the tournament’s promoter – and who has dipped into his own pocket to help provide the prize money, is now tied for second after a 68. Having turned 48 in January, the Ryder Cup star would be 39 days older than recordholder Des Smyth if he grabs his 19th Tour title on Sunday.

The surprise halfway leader is his fellow Spaniard Eduardo de la Riva, ranked only 610th in the world and not even a European Tour member. The 29-year-old from Barcelona, one of eight players given places in the event off the Spanish Order of Merit, stands 8 under par after rounds of 67 and 69.

He has been to Q-School nine times -- and the only time he made it through was a decade ago -- but last October he had his best-ever finish of third at the Madrid Masters.

Jimenez, at 51st the highest-ranked player in the field, is one behind along with Manassero, Irishman Damien McGrane, and another of the home contingent, Pablo Larrazabal. It then became a five-way tie when Tommy Fleetwood, the 21-year-old from England who won last year's Challenge Tour, completed his 69 with a birdie.

Among those on 6 under is England's Oliver Wilson, nine times a runner-up without ever winning.

One of those near-misses came when he lost a playoff to Jimenez in the 2008 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He went on to earn a Ryder Cup debut later the same season, but lost his card last year after slumping to 130th on the money list.

Wilson, playing on an invitation from Jimenez, admits he took "a lot of flak" for not going back to Q-School in December, but he insists that was because he put his health first. The 31-year-old from Mansfield suffered from stomach ulcers and parasites from drinking water in Bahrain early in 2011, but is back to fitness now after finally having his system flushed out.

"It would be nice not to have to rely on invites, but that's the position I'm in," he said. "Miguel's been fantastic. It means a lot, especially when it's another player."

Round of the day was a 65 from Italian Edoardo Molinari. He played in the last Ryder Cup along with brother Francesco, but has been battling a wrist injury and is down to 88th in the world after reaching 14th less than 18 months ago.

Molinari improved from 1 over to 6 under, and another on the same mark is Abu Dhabi winner Robert Rock, who can clinch a Masters debut with another victory.

Canadian Mike Weir, champion at Augusta in 2003 but now 1,206th in the world following elbow surgery, is 3 under, but Colin Montgomerie missed the cut by five on 5 over.