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Jimenez in contention

Three Spaniards were battling for the lead when the Andalucian Open resumed at Aloha today, but one of them was sure to have the biggest support.

While Eduardo de la Riva and Pablo Larrazabal are from Barcelona, Miguel Angel Jimenez is the local man and as tournament promoter has helped to keep the event afloat by dipping into his own pocket.

The 48-year-old is trying to become the oldest winner in European Tour history on the course where he is an honorary member. Rounds of 69 and 68 put Jimenez seven under par at halfway, part of a five-way tie for second place a stroke behind surprise leader de la Riva.

"I need to win to break even," said Jimenez with a smile, although he may not be joking.

Ranked 610th in the world - 559 places behind Jimenez - the 29-year-old does not even have a European Tour card and has only once come through the qualifying school in nine attempts.

But, against that, he can draw confidence from finishing third at the Madrid Masters last October and he has golf in his blood. His father was Spanish amateur champion seven times and his mother won the Spanish junior title on three occasions.

Larrazabal is twice a winner on the circuit and last June showed no mercy to another Spanish great when he beat Sergio Garcia at the fifth hole of a play-off for the BMW International Open in Munich. Alongside him and Jimenez are Ireland's Damien McGrane, England's Tommy Fleetwood and Italian Matteo Manassero.

McGrane is, of course, hoping to celebrate St Patrick's Day in style, while Fleetwood is the 21-year-old from Southport who topped last year's Challenge Tour.

As for 18-year-old Manassero, he began his search for a third victory with a course record-equalling 64 on Thursday and led by three, but followed that up with only a 73 to throw the title race wide open.

At 63rd in the world he still has a chance to qualify for next month's Masters, but England's Robert Rock, seven places ahead of him, could clinch a debut at Augusta by winning tomorrow and at six under when he teed off again that remained a real possibility for the man who beat Tiger Woods head-to-head in Abu Dhabi in January.


From Belfast Telegraph