GULLANE, Scotland (AP) — Leaning on his putter and gazing out toward the Firth of Forth, Miguel Angel Jimenez had the look of a contented man as he waited his turn for a birdie attempt under sunny skies on the 11th green.
The pony-tailed, pot-bellied, cigar-smoking Spaniard had birdied five of his first nine holes — including the first three — and was leading the British Open by three strokes early in the first round. Not bad for a 49-year-old man who recently returned to action after breaking his right leg in a skiing accident.
He couldn't quite keep it up, though, missing that putt and making two bogeys on his back nine to shoot a 3-under 68. But the charismatic Jimenez is still on the leaderboard. "I would love to have a major in my career," Jimenez said. "I would love to have one of these. I don't know how much longer for me on the tour. I'm 49, you know."
Unless a Scot goes on to lift the claret jug, there would likely be no more popular winner than Jimenez, a Ryder Cup stalwart and the owner of a frame that could generously be described as portly. He would become the oldest winner of the oldest major — Old Tom Morris holds the record at 46 from back in 1867 — as well as the first Spanish champion at the Open since Seve Ballesteros in 1988.
But Jimenez won't be getting ahead of himself. He has been here before at Opens, where his fast starts are now commonplace. At Turnberry in 2009, he was the first-round leader but came home tied for 13th, and he was one off the first-round lead at Sandwich in 2011 after a 66.
This year's showing is even more impressive since he missed the first three months of the season after his skiing fall while on vacation in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Andalucia, southern Spain.
"If you break your leg at 30 years old, you can say, 'OK, I'm going to have a sabbatical year,' but at 49 you don't want to spend any sabbatical day," Jimenez said, laughing. "It's tough so many months without hitting. Just knowing the competition that is around."
Jimenez, who is playing with padding under his left elbow because of tendonitis, became the oldest winner in European Tour history when he won the Hong Kong Open last year at 48 years, 318 days. He's looking to make more history at Turnberry.