Jimenez, nicknamed “The Mechanic”, fired a four-under-par 68 at the Alpine Golf & Sports Club for a four-day total of 17-under-par 271, snatching the title from the big Dane whose hopes dipped dramatically on the back nine en route to a 71.
India’s Jyoti Randhawa, Asia’s number one in 2002, soared to tied second place alongside the faltering Bjorn after firing a spectacular 64, which was highlighted by two stunning eagles and five birdies, and finished on 273.
Thai duo Thongchai Jaidee and veteran Boonchu Ruangkit also thrilled the large galleries with impressive rounds of 65 and 68 respectively to earn a share of fourth place with reigning US PGA Championship winner Shaun Micheel, Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin, New Zealand’s David Smail and Thai-based Scotsman Simon Yates.
The 40-year-old Jimenez, whose hard-earned victory was his eighth on The European Tour, said the triumph was one of his hardest yet in his career. “It is good to win the Johnnie Walker Classic as my thoughts was on this tournament this week. Thomas played well but he opened the door by hitting into water twice (on the 14 and 17),”said Jimenez, who joins great names such as Greg Norman, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els as winners of the Johnnie Walker Classic.
Starting the final round one back of Bjorn, who had led from the opening day, the lead changed hands three times over the last 11 holes in what turned into a thrilling matchplay shootout. The pony-tailed Jimenez looked to have gained the upperhand with four birdies in a row from the sixth but uncharacteristically stumbled with bogeys on 10 and 12.
Bjorn birdied 11 and 13 to regain a one-shot edge but his title bid ended in a watery grave when he took bogeys on the 14th and 17th holes, both par fives. Wielding a new driver this week, he leaked his tee shots right into water hazards.
Jimenez, who moves into top spot on the European Tour money ranking, pounced on those costly errors with birdies on the same holes to open up a two-shot cushion heading into the 18th which he parred safely for the title and winner’s cheque of US$301,787. “I didn’t hole many putts but made that one on 17 (from 20 feet) which was important,” said Jimenez.
Bjorn paid a fitting tribute to the winner but hopes to build on his runner-up outing in what was his first tournament for the new year. “Magnificent, really magnificent. The golf he played on the front nine was out of this world. I’ve not seen golf like that for many years,” said Bjorn, who had also slipped up coming down the stretch when leading last year’s British Open.
“I hit two poor tee shots at 14 and 17. At worst you are looking to be one under for those two holes and that’s the tournament for you. That’s the way golf is,” added the Dane, who said he lost five kilos this week due to the searing heat and humidity.
Randhawa bolted up the leaderboard following a great round. He nailed a two iron from 264 yards to two feet at the par five seventh and slam-dunked a sand wedge shot from 95 yards on 16 for an eagle two.
“I told my caddie at the start of the round that we would need to be aggressive to move up the leaderboard. I wanted seven under or better, so to shoot eight under is pretty satisfying.
“I’m really surprised with my result here but I have been mentally strong. I haven’t played for a month as I’m still taking a break after last season. During my one month off, I didn’t touch my clubs. I only started practising two days before coming out here. Maybe I need to rest more to play good golf,” said Randhawa, winner of the Suntory Open in Japan last year.
It was another spellbinding week for 47-year-old Thai veteran Boonchu, who became the oldest winner in Asia last Sunday following his victory in the Thailand Open. A round that included eight birdies against a lone bogey pushed him into tied fourth place on 274, three behind the winner. “I’ve putted really well this week. I’ve been thinking my way around on this golf course which is the key. It’s been a really good two weeks for me,” he said.
Compatriot Thongchai turned in 36 but started holing putts on the back nine, picking up birdies on the 11, 13, 16 and 17. “To be up on the leaderboard and to have Boonchu’s name up there as well is tremendous for Thai golf. Today, I putted really well on the back nine and started holing some nice ones. I’m really happy.”
Title-holder Els gave his army of supporters something to cheer about with a burst of five straight birdies up till the 18th for a 69 and joint 10th place alongside England’s Ian Poulter and Australian Scott Gardiner.
The Johnnie Walker Classic, jointly owned by Diageo and IMG, is tri-sanctioned by the European, Asian and Australasian Tours and presented in cooperation with the Tourism Authority of Thailand. The US$1.8 million prize money makes the Johnnie Walker Classic the richest event on both the Australasian and Asian Tours.
First staged in Hong Kong in 1990, the event has been played in six different countries over 10 different golf courses and has been won by Faldo twice, Tiger Woods twice, Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Ian Woosnam, Michael Campbell, Retief Goosen and of course Els on two occasions.
For further information, please contact Helen Heady or Chuah Choo Chiang at the Johnnie Walker Classic Tournament Media Centre tel: 662 577 5297/5298 or fax: 662 577 5300.
Leading final round scores
271 – Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP) 70-66-67-68
273 – Jyoti Randhawa (IND) 69-70-70-64, Thomas Bjorn (DEN) 64-68-70-71
274 – Boonchu Ruangkit (THA) 71-68-70-65, Shaun Micheel (USA) 70-70-67-67, Thongchai Jaidee (THA) 67-72-67-68, Raphael Jacquelin (FRA) 71-68-67-68, David Smail (NZL) 67-69-69-69, Simon Yates (SCO) 68-68-68-70
275 – Ernie Els (RSA) 70-67-69-69, Scott Gardiner (AUS) 66-71-69-69, Ian Poulter (ENG) 66-72-67-70
276 – Anders Hansen (DEN) 67-70-72-67, Nick Faldo (ENG) 65-70-72-69, Colin Montgomerie (SCO) 73-67-67-69, Miles Tunnicliff (ENG) 69-70-68-69, Richard Green (AUS) 73-64-67-72
277 – Euan Walters (AUS) 72-68-68-69, David Park (WAL) 69-72-67-69, Barry Lane (ENG) 70-70-67-70, Marcus Fraser (AUS) 67-73-66-71
278 – Scott Laycock (AUS) 70-68-70-70, Unho Park (AUS) 69-71-68-70, Yang Yong-Eun (KOR) 70-70-66-72, 279 – Anthony Kang (KOR) 71-69-71-68, David Howell (ENG) 70-71-70-68, Jean-Francois Remesy (FRA) 70-69-71-69, Zhang Lian-wei (CHN) 68-71-70-70, Brad Kennedy (AUS) 70-70-70-69, Brian Davis (ENG) 71-71-66-71