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Jiménez Takes Turespaña

Call it brilliance, call it luck, call it what you will; Miguel Angel Jiménez won't mind.

The Spaniard, who was playing on a course not a 10-minute drive in his Ferrari Marinello from his front door, had it all to lose as he reached the turn in the final round of the Turespaña Masters Sunday. That he didn't was down to two outrageous strokes with his sand-wedge, pivotal blows that were to bring him victory at 24-under-par 264.

Jiménez, in a position of dominance when the final day dawned, frittered much of his lead away in the space of three holes leading up to the turn. He drove out of bounds on the seventh on his way to a double bogey, then dropped another shot on the ninth after failing to find the green and missing a three-foot par putt.

Suddenly, with twentysomethings Steve Webster and Raphael Jacquelin leading a determined push by the pursuing pack, Jiménez was no longer the shoo-in for the £59,500 first prize he had appeared a couple of hours earlier.

His game was looking ragged round the edges and continued to as he dumped his second shot into a greenside bunker on the 10th. From that position a par would have been cause for mild celebration, but Jiménez was not having any of that, a delicately played stroke from the sand rolling gently to the hole and dropping at the last gasp.

It was a shot gained when it could so easily have been one dropped, and he was saved from a terrible fate on the par-3 11th when his tee shot was heading for a pond, only to be stopped short by the providential foot of a spectator.

Nobody would accuse a member of Jiménez's fan club of putting his or her foot in the way deliberately -- just let's say nobody was in a hurry to get out of the way. The upshot was that what could so easily have been a double bogey, or worse, was turned into a par three.

He was still not out of trouble -- with five holes to play he was only a shot ahead of Webster -- but then came the greatest escape act of the lot at the 14th. Again he was in a greenside trap, again looking at something nasty on his card. It was time for the trusty sand-wedge again.

Out it came, and so did the ball. This time it left the sand a little hot, but the effect was just the same. The ball bounced once, still going at a steady clip, but its second bounce was interrupted by the hole. The ball disappeared like a jack rabbit diving for cover; the eagle three effectively sealed his victory.

The palpitations Jiménez endured around the turn looked far from likely at the start of his round. Five ahead as he walked onto the first tee, he promptly eagled the hole for the second day running. He also picked up a shot on the third, and, when he birdied the sixth, he seemed o be about to rewrite an entry in the European PGA Tour record book.

The record 72-hole score under par in Europe is 28, and the way Jiménez had played so far, 28-under looked a formality. The shenanigans on the seventh and ninth put an end to all such notions, but there was still a job to be completed.

With Webster leading the chase, Jiménez, roared on by his family, friends and neighbours, looked vulnerable as he moved through the turn, and it was to his eternal credit that he never lost his nerve.

The eagle-bagging trap shot on the 14th gave him some breathing space. With England's Webster eventually running out of inspiration -- he went on to finish second with Frenchman Jacquelin third, both career-bests -- Jiménez's last birdie of the tournament, from six feet on the 16th, was pleasing for the player but irrelevant in the context of the tournament.

"Any win is nice, but I have to admit that doing it here in front of so many people I know makes it extra-special," the 35-year-old Malagueno said. "I was a little nervous when I dropped the shots on the front nine. I was going downstairs at that point and the others were coming up, but I was determined to hold on to my game.

"The pressure is always on when you are leading, and I think it's better for me when it is. You can get too relaxed, and if you are, you are not likely to play your best golf."

With this victory, which pushed him into second place in the European Ryder Cup points list, Jiménez became the first player to defend his title successfully in European tour golf for two years, and his score of 24 under par has been beaten only twice in tour history. And to think, if it hadn't been for the shortest iron in his bag, it might all have been so very different.

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