Consider Miguel Angel Jimenez the de facto defending champ this week at Constellation Furyk and Friends.

With last year’s winner Phil Mickelson suspended after playing the LIV Golf Tour, Jimenez is the best finisher from the first Furyk & Friends to return to the Timuquana Country Club. He was Mickelson’s runner-up, two strokes off the winning score of 15 under par 201, but put the pressure on all weekend after a pedestrian 70 in the first round.

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Jimenez played his final 47 holes bogey-free and his second-round 65 tied John Daly’s closing score for the tournament low round.

“It’s nice to be back here,” the 58-year-old Spaniard told a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s a beautiful golf course…firm and fast, very enjoyable.”

Jimenez is having another solid season, tying four other players for first place with three wins. He enters week five of the Charles Schwab Cup race and has earned $1,896,413, with 12 top 10 finishes in 18 starts. He’s only been outside the top 20 three times and now has 13 PGA Tour titles and 39 worldwide.

Jimenez was in the chase in three of the Champions Tour majors, with a tie for third place at the Regions Tradition, a tie for fourth place at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and a tie for seventh place at the US Senior Open.

Jimenez likes the challenges of Timuquana

Jimenez likes to keep life interesting, to say the least, and the intricacies of Donald Ross’ historic background have him eager to get to the first tee on Friday at 11:45 a.m., where he’ll play with Ernie Els and Stephen Ames.

“It’s not that long, but you always have to get the ball into position,” he said of Timuquana. “That bermudagrass you have all over the golf course…you have to be in the fairway. If you miss the fairway [it’s] go to [be] almost impossible to stop the ball on these greens. You have to be very precise with all your clubs.”

Jimenez said the Champions Tour doesn’t face many challenges as Timuquana each week.

“It’s quite different because every week we play [soft] greens that are different types of grass that you can hold onto better,” he said. “The way the golf course is laid out, you have to be nice, clean and precise. A bit different with other golf courses.”

Work hard to stay relevant

Jimenez, affable and carefree, with his distinctive long, curly hair and quick wit, has been called “the most interesting man in golf”. He has an affinity for fast cars, good wine, cigars and a good steak, but he’s a grinder on the golf course, competing with the seemingly ageless Bernhard Langer to stay fit and collect trophies as he goes. that he is getting old.

Fans appreciate his exotic pre-round stretch almost as much as his booming workouts and deft short game.

Miguel Angel Jimenez and his caddy Clifford Botha are all smiles after a big drive on the ninth hole at Timuquana Country Club in the first round of Constellation Furyk & Friends last year.  Jimenez finished second to Phil Mickelson by two strokes.

“I [get] more exercise than ever in the past 15 years,” he said. “Training is very important…flexibility is very important. The older we get, the more we need to work, especially flexibility. It helps a lot to maintain me, my status.”

However, Jimenez, who has a streak of self-mockery, refuses to put himself in the same class as Langer, 65, who is two wins shy of Hale Irwin’s all-time record on the 45 Champions Tour.

“I’m nothing special,” he said with a smile. “Bernard has been the same for 45 years, for 50 years. He has never changed, he looks the same. It’s just a number, age.”

“He’s part alien”

Notah Begay III said Jimenez was a bit modest.

“I think it’s part alien…it has extraterrestrial DNA in it that keeps it flexible and moving well,” Begay said. “The smoothness of his swing hasn’t changed in decades. You have to give him and Bernhard huge credit for staying relevant, staying competitive. Professional sports are very quick to weed out any athlete who isn’t not up to snuff and these guys have really proven they have a secret recipe. Maybe they both know where the fountain of youth is.

Padraig Harrington said Jimenez is still hitting the ball at his pre-50 level.

“Of all the [Champions Tour] players here, I think he’s the one hitting as hard as he did eight years ago,” Harrington said. “He’s 165. [mph] ball speed, which is long enough and he pushes himself.”

Jimenez said his drive to continue playing at a high level stems more from the inner passion he feels for golf, just as much as his fitness and work ethic.

“I love golf and I work on my game on the course and still spend a lot of time there,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the same amount as before, but I spend a lot of time on the driving range and working, practicing putting. It’s my life, it’s what I want to do .”

He said he was ready for a stretch race on the Champions Tour. There are two regular season events before the three Schwab Cup playoff tournaments.

“I feel good…I’ve been hitting well all year, I’ve played really well, a lot of top 10s,” he said. “Five more tournaments to finish the season and I will do my best to finish.”

Contact Garry Smits at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GSmitter