Langer still trophy-less but feeling good about season

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Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Bernhard Langer's victory drought didn't end on a rainy Sunday at the Regions Tradition.
June 10, 2012
Cary Estes, Special to PGATOUR.COM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Bernhard Langer played golf in the rain on Sunday, trying desperately to end a drought.

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It has been nearly 16 months since Langer last won an event on the Champions Tour. A thumb injury that sidelined him for more than four months last year is part of the culprit. But this season he has had a series of solid rounds and top-five finishes, all without taking home a trophy.

That trend continued this week at the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek. Langer battled through consistent drizzly conditions and occasional heavy rain to shoot a 6-under 66 in Sunday's final round. That left him tied for second place with Chien Soon Lu at 12-under for the tournament, two shots behind winner Tom Lehman.

Langer now has seven top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 11 starts this season. He has shot over-par only twice in 35 rounds. He has taken the lead in the point standings of the Charles Schwab Cup, which he won in 2010.

Yet despite all the positives, Langer's victory total since February 2011 remains stuck at zero.

"To win out here you have to play almost flawless golf, because everybody plays aggressive," Langer said. "They know a lot of great players are out here and they just go for everything.

"I watched Mr. Lu a little bit today, who was right behind me. He hit driver on every single hole. That's not necessarily the percentage play, the smart play, to just go for it. Either it works or it doesn't, and that's how a lot of the guys play out here."

Langer certainly went for it early in Sunday's final round. He birdied three of the first four holes and briefly pulled into a tie with Lehman for the lead at 9-under.

"My goal was to get off to a good start and put pressure on him to make him win the tournament and not let him have a three- or four-shot lead the whole day. That would be too easy," Langer said. "But he responded extremely well (with six birdies and no bogeys over a 14-hole stretch). He deserves to be the champion if that's how he finishes."

Langer's hopes for pulling off the comeback effectively came to an end when he had back-to-back bogeys on No. 8 and 9. And though he rallied to shoot a 32 on the back nine, Langer had given Lehman the cushion he needed to pull away and win the Regions Tradition for the second consecutive year.

"The momentum got halted there," Langer said. "I hit a bad 8-iron on 8. The wind was swirling, I wasn't sure which way it's going and the pin was close to the water, so I bailed out in the bunker and couldn't get it up and down from there. And then 9, I don't know what happened there. I blocked a 6-iron, hit the bank and it bounced into the water."

Still, Langer does not have many complaints about his game these days, especially when compared to where he was a year ago at this time. Langer did not play from mid March until late July last season after having ligament surgery on his left thumb.

Langer said the injury did not heal as quickly as expected following the surgery, and he admitted there were times when he wondered whether he would be able to play at a championship level again.

"They said I should be back after two or three months, but that wasn't the case. It was just about as painful as it was before," Langer said. "Then they said I'd developed arthritis, which in the long term is not a good picture. If you have arthritis, these joints hurt every time you swing the club.

"But with a lot of rehab and a lot of prayer, eventually it got better. By the time November came around, which was eight months later, it started feeling better. And ever since it's been pretty good."

With Langer feeling healthy again he is poised to contend with Lehman for the Charles Schwab Cup. Langer won the Cup in 2010, Lehman captured in 2011, and now they are 1-2 in this year's standings.

"I have a huge amount of respect for Bernhard," Lehman said. "He's been a great player for a long, long time. Anytime you can be on the same leaderboard as Bernhard Langer, you've accomplished something to be proud of."

For Langer, the main thing he wants to accomplish this season is to end his winless streak and use his repaired thumb to finally hoist another tournament trophy.

"I've played quite well the whole year," Langer said. "I've had quite a lot of good finishes and put myself in contention a few times. I just haven't got the W yet. But I think it's going to happen sooner or later."

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