Let's start over. Let's ask this wiry, 36-year-old Spaniard to step offstage and make another entrance. This time let's bring him on with a fanfare of horns, the way they introduce matadors to the bullring in his native Andalusia, and maybe get one of those bellowing announcers to bust his tonsils with an �el gran, el magn�fico, el insuperable campe�n de golf! If you've got confetti and streamers and a marching unit of schoolgirls carrying red and yellow flags, bring them on too, because it's not right that the best Continental golfer on the European tour has the international profile of a caddie, even if he used to be one.
It's not as if Miguel Angel Jim�nez is bland. He speeds along the twisting roads above his beloved Costa del Sol in a red Ferrari. He collects Spanish wines and fusses over food like an epicure. (If they gave frequent-flyer miles at tapas bars, he would own Iberia airlines.) When Jim�nez wins a tournament, or even comes close—as he did last November, when he took Tiger Woods to a playoff in the American Express Championship, up the road at Valderrama—he celebrates with village folk at a working-man's bar noted for the high-decibel tweets and trills of its caged songbirds.
"He's stubborn like a bull," says club pro Andr�s Jim�nez, a longtime friend. "When he decides the white wall is actually black, there's no way of convincing him otherwise." But Miguel is also so charmingly relaxed, so tranquilo, that his certitude never leads to a fight. "After a while," says Andr�s, "I am easily convinced that the wall is, in some ways, black."
Can Miguel play? Yes. Jim�nez won his fourth European tour event, the 1998 Troph�e Lanc�me, with a chip-in birdie on the final hole. Since then he has won the Turespa�a Masters twice, taken the 1999 Volvo Masters with a daring shot to the flag at the 72nd hole, finished fourth for two straight years on the European money list, played sparkling golf for the Euros in their Ryder Cup loss to the U.S. at Brookline, won the deciding match in Spain's 1999 Dunhill Cup victory and tied Ernie Els for second at last month's U.S. Open—the best finish by a Continental in tournament history. "The players say he has the strongest mind on the European tour," says John Hopkins, the golf writer for The Times of London.
Perhaps the strongest will as well. Jim�nez led by two shots last year when he came to the final hole of the Volvo Masters in Jerez, Spain. The percentage shot from the fairway was an iron to the fat of the green, away from water that runs along the left and in front of the hole. Jim�nez, however, went for the flag, sealing his victory with one final thrust of the sword. His friend and mentor, Seve Ballesteros, congratulated him warmly, but not before saying, "What kind of crazy shot was that on the 18th? You could have lost the tournament!" To which Jim�nez replied, "All my friends were there. I wanted to make another birdie for them."
Quiz Jim�nez about his penchant for the risky shot, and he gives you a droll look. "What's the shortest way to the flag?" he asks, beginning to laugh. "It's straight, isn't it?" The subject came up recently when he visited the Torrequebrada Golf Club outside M�laga, the club where he caddied and learned to play. "I love to hit to the flags," he says, looking beyond the clubhouse terrace to the blue Mediterranean and the curving coastline. "To do anything else never comes into my mind."
His older brother Juan, who taught Miguel the game and is still his maestro, likes to tell how his brother, at the start of his pro career, impressed the Spanish star, Jos� Mar�a Canizares. The two were teeing off in the first round of a tournament at Bilbao's Real Golf Neguri. "They started on number 10, a par-5 with pines from tee to green on the left side," says Juan. "Miguel hooks his drive into the trees, out-of-bounds. He tees up again, hits another into the trees. He could have easily played to the fairway, but he saw this shot in his mind. He hits another ball into the trees, and another. He takes 13 shots on his first hole." The kicker is that Canizares came to Juan after the round and said, "Your brother is going to be a great player." Anyone so cabezon (big-headed, stubborn), Canizares figured, had what it took to play golf.
Miguel has since learned to temper his aggressiveness with common sense—you don't finish second in a U.S. Open without the virtues of patience and discipline—but he makes it clear that he would rather hole out from the fairway to win one major than finish second in a dozen. "Some players think only of money," he says. "I don't see the game like that. I like to enjoy myself." How does he enjoy himself? By living "momento to momento. You need to live now."
Jim�nez is willing to demonstrate. Get your car and follow him up the mountain road to the cliffside restaurant El Higuer�n, where the quality of the tapas is exceeded only by the magnificence of the coastal view. Miguel will pour you a glass of La Guita, a very dry Spanish sherry that pleases him. "My palate is accustomed to the local wines," he says. He'll show you how to wrap cold slices of salami and chorizo around a minibreadstick, and how to mop up sardine bits, olive oil and hot scampi broth with the spongy side of a hunk of bread. "You cannot find tapas this good anywhere else in the world," he says, savoring every bite. Then he'll light up a filtered Camel and puff contentedly.
His friend Andr�s Jim�nez was startled last November when Miguel called him the night before the final round of the American Express and invited him and his wife over for dinner with some other couples. "He's having his wine and fried fish," Andr�s recalls, "totally relaxed and having fun, as if tomorrow were just another day. To him it's something simple, playing against Tiger Woods and all those guys."