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Larger than life

Spain's cigar and wine-loving Miguel Angel Jimenez had plenty to smile about in the first round of the Open Championship on Thursday. Jimenez navigated Royal St. George's in 4-under 66 and finds himself near the top.

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A tie for third at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2001 is Miguel Angel Jimenez's best Open finish. (Getty Images)

SANDWICH, England (AP) -- Famed for his love of cigars and a post-round glass of Rioja, the ponytailed Miguel Angel Jimenez is certainly one of golf's larger-than-life characters.

On his day, the 47-year-old Spaniard can also be one of the sport's finest players.

He demonstrated that at the Open Championship on Thursday, shooting a bogey-free 4-under 66 to move into second place early in

the first round at Royal St. George's.

"I played very solid all day long," he said. "I played very well from tee to green, putted well and that's what you need to make pars on this course."

Using all the experience built up over 28 years on the European Tour and four

Ryder Cups spanning 1999 to 2010, Jimenez conquered windy conditions on the links course with a mixture of solid driving and fine putting.

With Jimenez sitting underneath another 40-something, Denmark's Thomas Bjorn (65), and just ahead of 51-year-old American Mark Calcavecchia (69) on the fledgling leaderboard, it was a good opening day for the continent's old-timers.

"It doesn't matter what your age is to be a good sportsman. On links like this, you see all the years -- any age can be on the leaderboard," Jimenez said. "Experience, timing, patience. They are things that age gives to you.

"It's always nice to see the people around my age up there. I'm very happy to see them keep moving along and playing with these young guys."

Jimenez has never won a major but is no stranger to fast starts at the Open. At Turnberry in 2009, he was the first-round leader but came home tied for 13th.

His best finish remains joint third at Lytham in 2001, his only top-10 placing in the tournament. But aside from an English winner, it would be hard to find a more popular champion at Royal St. George's than the charismatic Jimenez.

His rapport with the European crowds -- bolstered by his outings in the Ryder Cup -- comes from his simple, honest approach to life that spectators can identify with. With his portly frame, he looks like your average club golfer.

"I try to live my life and enjoy myself," Jimenez said.

Jimenez came to Sandwich with no form, having missed the cut in four of his last five tournaments on the European Tour, but he quickly found his stride with two birdies either side of the turn.

The closest he came to dropping a shot was on the par-4 No. 18. Laying up in the middle of the fairway after a rare errant drive, Jimenez pitched a wedge to within five feet with his third shot.

An unforgiving putt ensured his card stayed unblemished and earned him rapturous applause from the gallery.

He certainly earned his glass of wine this time.

"It doesn't matter what my score was, I was going to have a Rioja," he said, with a big grin. "And a big, fat cigar."