GULLANE, Scotland — Miguel Angel Jimenez looked like the only guy who was having fun.
On a punishing day at Muirfield — the course with a reputation as the fairest links of them all — leave it to a 49-year-old Spaniard who enjoys the simple pleasures in life to make such a demanding test at the British Open seem like just another round of golf.
There was calamity all around him Friday.
Zach Johnson lost the lead with a three-putt from 10 feet. Brandt Snedeker, regarded as one of the best putters in golf, took four putts from 15 feet. Tiger Woods played well enough to be only one shot behind and rarely smiled.
Jimenez, with his frizzy red hair bunched into a ponytail, made his way around Muirfield with only two bogeys for an even-par 71 that gave him a one-shot lead over Woods, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, and Dustin Johnson at 3-under 139.
What’s a 49-year-old doing with the 36-hole lead at the British Open?
‘‘Why? I have not the right to do it? Only the young people can do it?’’ Jimenez said. ‘‘Why? I'm fine. We keep playing golf and still get myself on the golf course, and that’s the secret. Enjoy yourself what you do in life. That’s what I'm doing.’’
For so many others, it was tough to enjoy anything about a course that brought the easterly wind for the first time all week, and greens that hit warp speed even after tournament officials hand-watered the putting surfaces overnight.
Woods went 12 holes without a birdie, saving his round with a collection of tough pars, and he finished with a 6-iron from 212 yards to 15 feet for a birdie and a 71. Westwood matched the best round of the day with a 68, while Stenson had a 70. Both of them had a double bogey on their cards. Dustin Johnson got himself into such a predicament on the 15th that his only option from a bunker was to aim sideways into the rough. He shot 72.
Phil Mickelson was in range of the lead until a four-putt on the 16th hole, his second double bogey of the day. That was one hole after Mickelson made a par putt that would have gone 15 feet by if he had missed.
Westwood surged to the top of the leaderboard with a 31 on the front nine and one more birdie at No. 12, but he dropped three shots on the last six holes.
Angel Cabrera, among six players who had a share of the lead at one point Friday, dropped five shots over the last three holes for a 72. Even so, he was only two shots behind at 1-under 141 along with Zach Johnson, Martin Laird (71), and Rafael Cabrera-Bello (74).
Only nine players remained under par on a course that is playing to an average of just under 75. There were 23 players separated by only five shots going into the weekend, and 10 of them were major champions.
Woods didn’t charge into contention as much as he kept from falling back. Not only did he go 12 holes without a birdie, he only had two reasonable chances before finally cashing in with a 15-foot putt on the last hole for an even-par 71.
‘‘Just continue plodding along,’’ Woods said. ‘‘Just continue being patient, putting the ball in the right spots.”
For three hours in the middle of his round, Woods looked like he was trying to hang on.
Getting the speed of the green was tough enough. The real problem was judging the speed of the fairways. Six times Woods came up short of the greens as he tried to bounce his shots off the firm turf and onto the putting surface.
From just short of the 10th green, he knocked his putt some 15 feet past the hole and made that coming back for par. He was short enough on the 11th that he chipped over a hump about 10 feet by the hole, and missed that putt to make bogey. On Nos. 14 and 15, his shots landed 30 yards short and both times ran off the back edge. He hit a flop shot from mangled grass to 3 feet on the 14th, and he chipped to 5 feet on the 15th. Both times, he saved par.
‘‘I was having a hard time to get the ball to chase, and then on top of that, trying to hit the putts hard enough going up the hills,’’ Woods said. ‘‘But then toward the middle part of my round, I lost the pace and was blowing it past the hole. But finally got it fixed at the end.’’
The key for Woods comes Saturday. He had a share of the 36-hole lead last year at the US Open and PGA Championship, then fell too far back to seriously contend. And he has never won a major when he wasn’t atop the leaderboard going into the last round.
‘‘I'm not going to win every major I play in,’’ Woods said. ‘‘But certainly I can try and put myself there. If I give myself enough opportunities, I'll get my share.’’
Playing partner Graeme McDowell wasn’t sure what impressed him more — the clutch putting or control Woods had of the flight of his irons. Friday’s round was played in an opposite wind, and it led to significant adjustments.
‘‘He’s playing the golf course conservatively, using his iron play to devastating effect,’’ said McDowell. “I said to him on the 18th green, ‘That was a clinic the last two days. That was very impressive.’ ”
Jimenez didn’t sound too worked up about the weekend, no matter what was at stake.
‘‘I don’t know what’s going to happen Sunday afternoon. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,’’ Jimenez said. ‘‘I'm going to go now. I'm going to hit some balls. And I'm going to have a nice cigar. And when tomorrow is coming, when the sun is coming, I will deal with that then.’’